When President Barack Obama gave his first State of the Union Address in the closing days of February, Lauren Goddard, a Brown Medical Student whose family lives in West Warwick, was sitting in the balcony of the House of Representatives the whole time.
Goddard, 26, who is in her second year at Brown's Warren Alpert Medical School, was invited to the speech by Senator Sheldon Whitehouse, because of concerns about the healthcare system that she voiced at a community dinner that he hosted in Warwick at the Tri-City Elks Lodge on Feb. 8.
At the dinner, Goddard, who is diagnosed with Crohn's disease, was outspoken about the need for healthcare reform. "1 always took my healthcare for granted until I was too old to be covered under my mother's health insurance plan," she wrote. "At that time I realized how limited my options would be as an individual with a pre-existing condition."
Over the last year she has seen the flaws in the healthcare system from both the side of the patient and the physician.
As a patient she spent several months last year without health insurance while she transferred from her mother's insurance to her boyfriend's as a domestic partner, Goddard said. "Even in that little time I saw some ofthe problems that I hear a lot about from patients. I have patients who talk a lot about having to make medications last longer, taking half a dose or taking it every other day, which is not how it was prescribed. I've seen people postpone procedures that we would ideally want to do immediately because of insurance."
For Goddard, being without health insurance meant choosing to forgo one of her medications Â- because it cost $500 a month out-of-pocket. Although her Crohn's disease is in remission, getting individual health insurance with a pre-existing condition was too costly for her.
This happens all the time to people with chronic illnesses who need constant medication, Goddard says. "I am a medical student so somehow I can make at least a somewhat informed decision about how I can do without or get by. Other people are just going by what they can afford."
The experience provoked Goddard to ask, "why should someone who is single not have health insurance when someone who is married could? I think that we can do better to fix those kinds of things."
From the medical field, Goddard sees doctors spend a lot of time fighting with insurance companies about care that they know their patients need, she said. "But it's not covered by the company or the company only provides certain drugs when other drugs would be better. It's frustrating for doctors who have been through medical school to be fighting about it with someone who does not know the patient and does not know the situation."
She is a proponent of universal healthcare, Goddard said. "Regardless of age, relationship status, or health status, there should be singlepayer healthcare that anyone can access no questions asked."
Her experience with government-administrated health insurance while her dad was a naval commander was a good one, Goddard said. "It was so easy. You just pick up your drugs, don't pay any co-pay and there isn't any fighting on the phone. I wish that everyone could have healthcare without headaches."
A lot of people are concerned that universal health insurance is a socialized form of health insurance, Goddard said. "I went to a public school, to me I don't see any difference between public school and healthcare. Healthcare is as much of a right as education. "I would like to challenge people who are cynical about the whole government involvement in healthcare," Goddard said. "Where would we be without a public education system? Even though there are problems with it we can improve them."
Her time in Washington D.C. was "awesome," Goddard said. "I am a big political nerd - I was a political science major in college so I was really excited to be there."
As a supporter of Obama, Goddard said she is "excited about all the changes that are already in the works and are forthcoming with the new administration. It was such a privilege to be there and I was so grateful to Senator Whitehouse for thinking of the idea and thinking to invite me and his staff for arranging everything."
While in the capitol she had breakfast with Whitehouse as attended the speech. "The speech itself was very exciting," she said. "I thought his three main priority areas were right in line with what we are hoping for. I loved that he mentioned preventative medicine - the importance of having preventative medicine is really undervalued in the healthcare system right now. Doctors get paid for procedures but not for consultation and preventative measures. Mentioning electronic medical records was great too."
She would have liked to have seen Obama talk more about incentives for going into primary care, such as loan forgiveness, due to the cost of medical school Goddard said, "overall I thought it was a great speech and I felt like he wasn't really mincing words, it was straight talk, which I like instead of sort of hearing generalities. This was very concrete like he was really addressing the citizens of the country."
Goddard will graduate from medical school in 2012 and plans to pursue a residence in family medicine or obstetrics and gynecology, she said.