September 8, 2009

Rhode Island Resident Who Has Struggled with our Broken Health Insurance System Will Join Whitehouse at Obama’s Address to Congress

Washington, D.C. – A Rhode Island resident who lives with multiple sclerosis and has seen firsthand the problems plaguing our current health insurance system will attend President Barack Obama’s address to Congress tomorrow evening as the guest of U.S. Senator Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI).

Christine Ongano, a Coventry resident, will watch President Obama’s speech Wednesday from the Visitor’s Gallery of the House of Representatives. The President has pledged to make affordable, accessible health insurance a reality for all Americans, and will lay out his principles for reform during the address.

Ongano was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis in 2007, at which time her family was receiving health insurance through her employer. After taking a medical leave of absence from her job, and with only her husband’s income to pay the bills, Ongano was unable to make the payments for their health insurance and was forced to drop their coverage. She wrote to Whitehouse’s office to share her struggles, and recently spoke about her experience at a community dinner hosted by Whitehouse and Senator Jack Reed in West Warwick.

“I was put in a position [of choosing] to keep a roof over our heads or keep our medical coverage; a place no one should be put in especially someone with a chronic condition,” Ongano said during her introduction of Senator Whitehouse and Reed at the community dinner.

“I admire Christine for her strength in battling a chronic disease, and for her desire to right the wrongs she has experienced with our broken health insurance system,” said Whitehouse. “For Christine and for the countless Rhode Islanders throughout the State who have shared similar experiences with me, I’m committed to instituting real change that will make quality, affordable health insurance accessible for every American.”

Even though Ongano is now on Medicare, she is still responsible for paying thousands of dollars in out-of-pocket expenses her family accumulated during the time they did not have coverage.

Whitehouse has been an outspoken advocate for health insurance reform, authoring legislation that focuses on the advancement of health information technology, quality improvement that saves lives and money, prevention of illness, and reform of the reimbursement system. At a community dinner earlier this year in Warwick, he unveiled a new web page featuring personal stories from Rhode Islanders who have struggled to find affordable health insurance for themselves or their families, or who have found themselves tangled in our dysfunctional health care bureaucracy. This web page can be viewed at


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Meaghan McCabe, (202) 224-2921