When Brea Wiggins, CMA (AAMA), was officially diagnosed with psoriatic arthritis in 2016, she began to advocate for other people living with the condition.

“I was in pain for a long time, and I kept going to doctors who told me there was nothing to worry about. It took years to get diagnosed, and getting treatment is a whole other challenge,” says Wiggins.

As a medical assistant for a podiatrist in South Carolina, Wiggins says she always encourages patients to be their own advocate. One day, while googling information about arthritis, she decided to take her own advice. “I came across the Arthritis Foundation, and I knew that this was my chance to make a difference for myself and those in the arthritis community who think they don’t have a voice in health care policy,” explains Wiggins.

After Wiggins shared her struggles with arthritis, such as the wrist and hand pain that hinders her ability to perform work functions, as well as her desire to help others with her condition, the Arthritis Foundation awarded Wiggins a travel award. The award paid for her flight to Washington, DC, including hotel costs, so that she could attend a national summit on arthritis. Wiggins, who represented South Carolina, met with two of her state senators and two members of the House of Representatives.

At the summit, Wiggins gave testimony for four objectives. One of these objectives was for the 116th Congress to pass a bill to reform step therapy, also known as fail first, an insurance practice that requires clinicians to first prescribe the least expensive drug in any class to a patient, even if a different therapy is medically in the best interest of the patient. Consequently, this system could mean insurers’ interests are placed above the interests of patients.

“I talked about how I have yet to find a medication to help with my pain because of step therapy,” says Wiggins. “After the summit, the offices of senators Tim Scott and Lindsey Graham contacted me and told me that, in every meeting they were in, the act was talked about.”

Wiggins also gave testimony to increase Department of Defense (DOD) funding for veterans with arthritis, a matter close to her heart. “Growing up, I was around military people and have family members who were in the military. Also, I work with many patients who are veterans and who have arthritis. In fact, 1 in 3 veterans have arthritis, which makes up about 16% of the people in South Carolina who are living with the condition,” explains Wiggins.

On a broader scale, she hopes the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) will grant her request to give South Carolina funding for arthritis research. “There are only 13 states that receive funding for arthritis research from the CDC, and we’re not one of them,” she says.

Additionally, Wiggins discussed holding a bipartisan forum to educate members of Congress about arthritis by giving them updates on how the disease impacts their community and constituents.

Her efforts continue away from Capitol Hill too. She was a top fundraiser for the Walk to Cure Arthritis, and she is working toward becoming a Platinum Ambassador for the Arthritis Foundation. Currently, she serves as an advocacy monitor for the foundation’s online community and is organizing an on-site help group.

“When I have flare-ups, it can be a struggle to get out of bed,” says Wiggins. “Advocating has brought a new light to my life. I will continue to help others cope with arthritis, so they know they are not alone with this disease.”