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Previously: Daffodil Princess. Now: health care activist

Amy Radil
UW freshman Kelty Pierce: imagine 162 medical appointments per year.

Being a Daffodil Princess in Pierce County is not about winning a pageant. Kelty Pierce, 19, is emphatic on that point.

It’s an award for high school girls who are devoted to public service. Pierce was one recipient, which is how she met U.S. Rep. Denny Heck.  

“The congressman and his staff actually came to speak at one of our Saturday morning practices,” she said.

Heck said each member of Congress can give away one ticket to the president’s speech in Washington, D.C. After meeting Pierce and hearing about her concerns about changes to the health care law, Heck offered her his ticket.

Pierce, who grew up in Puyallup, has had multiple surgeries over her lifetime to deal with hip dysplasia. She also has an inflammatory disease called ulcerative colitis, which requires expensive treatments. She is using her personal experience to engage her classmates at the University of Washington about the importance of having health coverage. 

Pierce, a freshman, is also an enthusiastic member of her sorority and student government. “People don’t look at me and assume, oh she’s sick,” she said. “They see me out there involved in the Greek community, going to classes, going to our student government events.”

These days she’s making the case for health insurance to the young, healthy people around her. It’s a demographic that often went without insurance before the Affordable Care Act. She emphasizes that her story could be anyone’s. 

“When I tell them that in 2016 I had 162 doctors’ appointments while they were watching Netflix, you know, hanging out with friends or whatever, I think that’s a powerful number, because when you break it down, that’s three or more on average a week,” she said.

The Affordable Care Act allowed people like these students to stay on their parents’ insurance plans up until age 26. It also requires insurance companies to cover preexisting medical conditions. Pierce said it’s encouraging to see Washington State’s Republican members of Congress supporting those provisions. But she’s not relaxing yet.  

“The truth is, is we don’t have a clear plan," she said. "And it’s not just the preexisting condition piece that is huge for me and so many other Americans.” 

In an interview last week on KCTS, Republican Rep. Dave Reichert said he would not vote to repeal the Affordable Care Act unless there is adequate legislation to replace it. In terms of lifetime limits, Reichert said Republicans are discussing a cap on benefits for one population: single, able-bodied adults who received health care coverage through the expansion of Medicaid.  

“So, two to five years, they’ll be on an off-ramp and be gently moved to another insurance policy where they’ll receive either continued subsidies and/or tax credits in order to afford and help pay for an insurance plan,” Reichert said. “No one is going to lose coverage.”

Rep. Heck, a Democrat, said it’s clear Republicans want to keep certain parts of the Affordable Care Act. But he said the requirement for everyone to buy insurance is what makes these provisions viable.   

“Even the Republicans say they like these things, they’re enthusiastic about these things. These things are effectively funded by individual mandate,” he said. “Requiring people to participate or pay a penalty is what makes the pool large enough to be able to say to somebody with a preexisting condition, ‘you have a right to access to health care.’”

Heck said part of the political struggle for Democrats is that some people don’t realize their health plan is funded with federal Medicaid dollars.

“We didn’t want it to stigmatize people who were receiving it,” Heck said. “Looking back, that might have worked against us.”

Reichert said the “repeal and replace” bill will be working its way through the House in the next few weeks. As for Pierce, after her trip to the Capitol, she’ll participate in a march for health care in Tacoma this weekend. Then she says her next task will be to pass her final exams. 

Year started with KUOW: 2005