By Adrian Sainz, Associated Press
MEMPHIS, Tenn. — Hillary Rodham Clinton, who worked on a plan to expand health care coverage in the U.S. years before the Affordable Care Act, visited with young patients Thursday at St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital, where families of patients suffering from pediatric cancer and other illnesses pay nothing for treatment, travel, housing and food.
The former Secretary of State then spoke at the opening of the Marlo Thomas Center for Global Education and Collaboration on the campus of the Memphis hospital. Thomas, an actress and the daughter of St. Jude founder Danny Thomas, is the face of the hospital’s national outreach efforts and a winner of the 2014 Presidential Medal of Freedom.
St. Jude is considered a leading researcher of cancer and other life-threatening diseases that affect children. The hospital says it is working to increase the overall survival rate for childhood cancer to 90 percent in the next decade. The hospital relies heavily on donations from the public, which makes up three-quarters of the hospital’s funding, said Richard Shadyac Jr., president and CEO of St. Jude’s fundraising organization.
“This is what health care should look like. Patients before profits. Collaboration before competition. And that is particularly the health care that every single child deserves,” she said. The statement drew applause from the audience.
It was Clinton’s second visit to St. Jude. She first came in 1994, when she was first lady and her husband, Bill Clinton, was in his first term. She led a 1993 task force that unsuccessfully sought legislation in Congress to achieve universal health care coverage.
Hillary Clinton thanked the hospital’s employees and its board of directors, whom she called generous and dedicated. She also made reference to the fact that patients pay don’t pay for treatment.
“The provision of high-quality health care at no cost, the sharing of the learned knowledge that comes from delivering that care, is revolutionary, because when this hospital has a breakthrough, it doesn’t hold the information close, trying to figure out how it can possibly profit from it in the future,” Clinton said. “It doesn’t stave off competitors so that it can stand above the rest. It shares what has been learned.”
As a presidential candidate in 2007 and 2008, Clinton pushed for a health care plan that mandated coverage for all individuals, which was later included in President Barack Obama’s health care law, and offered federal subsidies to help reduce the cost of coverage.
Clinton, who also is a former U.S. senator, has not announced whether she will run for president in 2016.
The center named for Marlo Thomas will be the hub for the hospital’s International Outreach Program, which aims to improve childhood cancer survival rates worldwide. The center also will support the training of post-doctoral and graduate fellows and provide a place where doctors and researchers can share information with others around the world.
Thomas gave a tear-jerking speech, referring to her late father several times, and telling the story of patients who celebrated “off-chemo” parties.
“Until my own dying breath, I will carry forward my father’s words, often said, but not enough, that ‘No child should die in the dawn of life,'” Thomas said.