The day President Donald Trump delivered his first Joint Session to Congress, a special guest from Puyallup was present.
U.S. Rep. Denny Heck, D-Olympia, brought one guest to the event on Feb. 28. That guest was 19-year-old Kelty Pierce, a Puyallup High School graduate, former Daffodil Festival princess and current University of Washington student. She was able to share her story with other members of Congress.
“Every year each Congress member gets one ticket to the State of the Union,” said Pierce. “(Congressman Heck) and I both agree that the best way to get through to people is through story.”
(Congressman Heck) and I both agree that the best way to get through to people is through story.
Digital Access for only $0.99
For the most comprehensive local coverage, subscribe today.
Pierce has congenital hip dysplasia, a condition where the joint of the hips don’t develop properly. She’s had 12 hip surgeries and will one day have to get both her hips permanently replaced.
When she was 17, she was diagnosed with ulcerative colitis, an irritable bowel disease. At one point, she had 162 doctor appointments in just a few months. Every month since, she takes a treatment that costs $28,000 per dose.
“Without insurance there is no way myself or my family could afford to pay that 28,000 bill,” Pierce said.
Heck was already familiar with Kelty’s story after she met him at a Daffodil Festival event about a year ago. In January, she was invited to go to a roundtable meeting with Heck to discuss the Affordable Care Act. The Congressman brought her story to Washington D.C. Kelty was told her story was a powerful one.
When Pierce got the chance to go to D.C., she got to share her own story herself — and how the Affordable Care Act affected her.
“I am first to admit that the Affordable Care Act is not perfect,” Pierce said. “The best use of time and effort and resources for everyone is taking the plan we currently have and amending it instead of starting from scratch.”
I am first to admit that the Affordable Care Act is not perfect. The best use of time and effort and resources for everyone is taking the plan we currently have and amending it instead of starting from scratch.
The Affordable Care Act helped with Pierce’s care in several ways — a major piece being that there are no lifetime caps on the amount of coverage she can receive. If there were, it’s likely she’d blow through it within a year — maybe even six months.
Pierce can also stay on her parents’ insurance until she’s 26, removing some of the stress of finding a job directly after college that provides insurance. She also doesn’t see any discrimination from insurance companies about her pre-existing conditions.
“The idea that insurance companies could turn me away (for conditions) that I have no control over is scary,” she said.
With efforts by the Trump administration to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act, Pierce said she’s realized what effect this could have on others like her.
“I’m thankful for the current administration and current presidency because they helped me find my voice,” Pierce said. “(The Affordable Care Act) for many of us is a literal lifeline and I think we need to emphasize that.”
In D.C., Pierce met other members of Congress who shared her views.
“That was a great moment — just to share that you're not in this alone and to hear that there are so many people in Congress that this is their number one priority,” Pierce said.
“Having Puyallup native Kelty Pierce and her mother Carina here to join me for the President’s Joint Session to Congress showed that the people of the South Sound care about and are impacted by what we do in the nation’s capital,” Heck said. “Kelty met many of my colleagues, who were all touched by her story, and now understand a bit more about this important area and the people I represent.”
At the University of Washington, Pierce is a communications major with a focus on political rhetoric and public relations. She’s also minoring in human rights. Running for office one day is on her radar, and she also wants to open a nonprofit organization to help others.
This isn’t just about me. This isn’t just my story. Health care is a human right and a human issue. We have to take care of each other and we have to take care of some of our most vulnerable people.
“This isn’t just about me,” Pierce said. “This isn’t just my story. Health care is a human right and a human issue. We have to take care of each other and we have to take care of some of our most vulnerable people.”