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Health Figures Big In State Of The Union Guest List

Photo by Karl Eisenhower/KHN

Five of the 24 people invited to sit near First Lady Michelle Obama at Tuesday night’s State of the Union have strong health care connections. They included a governor, a business owner and a beneficiary of the health law provision that prevents health plans from denying coverage because of pre-existing conditions.

Typically, invited guests at the joint session of Congress help the president highlight a new initiative or show how administration policy is working.

Here are the biographies furnished by The White House:

Peter Hudson of Evergreen, Co.,  Co-Founder and CEO, iTriage

Hudson is a physician and entrepreneur with more than 15 years of experience founding and growing healthcare-related businesses. Using open government data, he launched iTriage in 2009 to help consumers engage in their own healthcare. Through an app, smartphone users can locate nearby providers based on their symptoms, make appointments, store their personal health records, save medication refill reminders, and learn about thousands of medications, diseases and procedures.

Gov. John Kitzhaber, D-Oregon.

A former emergency room doctor, Kitzhaber has made major changes to Oregon’s Medicaid program. Now in his third term, he is working with the Obama administration to scale up innovative models that improve health outcomes and achieve greater efficiency.

Menchu Sanchez, Registered Nurse, NYU Langone Medical Center

When Hurricane Sandy cut the power at NYU Langone Medical Center in Manhattan, Sanchez devised a plan to transport 20 at-risk infants to intensive care units around the city.  She organized the nurses and doctors to carry the babies down eight flights of stairs with only cell phones to light the way.  Menchu was born, raised, and educated in the Philippines and she immigrated to the United States in the 1980s.  She has worked as a nurse in New York for more than 25 years and has been at NYU since 2010.

Abby Schanfield  of Minneapolis, MN

Prior to passage of the Affordable Care Act, Abby would have lost coverage upon turning 21 and would  have been unable to obtain insurance due to several pre-existing conditions.  She was born with toxoplasmosis, a parasitic infection that her mother unwittingly passed on during pregnancy and which set the stage for lifelong medical problems. Abby is a member of TakeAction Minnesota’s health care team, a grassroots organization that advocates for progressive policies ranging from health care to economic reform.

Haile Thomas of Tucson, AZ.  Youth Advocate

Haile Thomas is a 12 year-old co-founder/director of the HAPPY Organization, an Arizona nonprofit dedicated to improving the health and wellness of youth through education, outreach, and advocacy about proper nutrition and healthy lifestyle choices. She hosts an annual H.E.A.L. (healthy eating, active lifestyle) Festival on Global Youth Service Day in Tucson. She created the Healthy Girl Adventures Club to inspire girls to embrace healthy habits, and produces online cooking videos aimed at kids.

Updated at 10:02 a.m. Feb. 13.