The fight for health reform is akin to the fight for desegregation and other civil rights, Sen. Tom HarkinTom HarkinDistance education: Tumultuous today and yesterday Grassley challenger no stranger to defying odds Clinton ally stands between Sanders and chairmanship dream MORE (D-Iowa) said Thursday.

"We don't allow segregation on the basis of race," Harkin, the chairman of the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP) Committee, said at the White House healthcare summit.

"And yet we still allow segregation today in America on the basis of your health," Harkin added. "Why should we allow that to happen?"

Harkin has been one of the most vociferous proponents of healthcare reform in the Senate, and has been a top proponent of the public option. (He did concede in recent days, though, that a measure establishing a government-run health plan was unlikely to pass.)

Still, Harkin said, health reform was vital to reduce "segregation" in healthcare.

"That's why insurance reform is so vital," he said.