A Visit to Jeff Flake’s Office: Fighting for Health Care

Jeff Flake, 2014. Photo: Gage Skidmore

January 24 was a national day of action called by the groups MoveOn, Indivisible, and the Working Families Party. The goal was to visit our senators’ offices around the country with concerns about Donald Trump’s cabinet appointments. In Tucson, there was an action outside Sen. John McCain’s office, but instead of joining that, I decided to go by myself to Sen. Jeff Flake’s office to tell someone on his staff my health care story. I was surprised and delighted to find a group from the SaddleBrooke Democratic Club there before me, standing partly inside and partly outside the office, talking specifically about Trump’s cabinet nominees Jeff Sessions and Betsy DeVos. Someone offered me a letter about DeVos, which I refused, not wanting to dilute my message. I joined the group, and a few others straggled in.

We are stronger when we work together, and there is room for whatever kind of action you are able to take.

Several people spoke to a staff person about education and civil rights. One woman brought up the Affordable Care Act (ACA) and how it has helped her family, hoping that Flake would hear people like her who are afraid of what repeal would mean. Someone asked whether Sen. Flake received letters; he had sent in several with no response. There was also talk about what kinds of communications are most likely to receive the senator’s attention. Hint: It was not mass emails sent in by organizations. Personal communications in person or by phone, or personal letters, are more likely to get attention than emails.

A Latina woman sat down with me to get my information. When I asked what her position was, she said this was her first day as an intern in the office. I wished her well and congratulated her, but told her I wanted to speak with someone on the staff. The intern took my name and address, then referred me to a staff member, the same woman who had met with the group from SaddleBrooke. She was interested and friendly. I said I was there to discuss Medicare and Medicaid specifically because they were the reason I was alive today. More than nine years ago, when I had valley fever and developed lumps on my legs, my doctor sent me for a chest x-ray, which showed a spot on my lung. The radiologist recommended a CT scan for a better look at it.

I would not have had that scan if I did not have both Medicare and QMBY, the Medicaid program that subsidizes low-income Medicare recipients, paying premiums and the 20 percent of care that Medicare doesn’t cover. Valley fever affects the lungs, which is why I had the x-ray to begin with; we would have watched it closely for any changes before doing anything else. But I had the scan, and got called in for another one — the scan had shown a large growth on my kidney. Almost my whole kidney was taken over by a tumor. I had no symptoms at all of any kidney problems.

The kidney was removed, the cancer still encapsulated, and no further treatment was needed.

The staff member kept going back to the fact that this was 10 years ago — she kept saying 10 when I said it was nine and a half. She brought this up again as I was leaving and wished me continued health.

I told her how the changes being proposed to Medicare and Medicaid would have made that test impossible. Turning Medicaid into block grants would very likely eliminate QMBY in many states. As it is now, states are required to cover everyone who is eligible, but if the state doesn’t have enough money, they don’t have to, as I found out when I turned 67 and was automatically switched from Medicare because of disability to Medicare because of retirement, and had to reapply for QMBY. And if we look at what states have done with TANF block grants, we see that in 2015 only 25 percent of funds were used for cash assistance while almost half was spent on non-related programs. Who knows where health care money would go?

Then I spoke about Tom Price, who doesn’t believe government has any place in health care. I told her what I had read in his plan to replace the ACA, which did not take income into account and replaced very little, but that I wanted to emphasize that without government health insurance I would be dead, that keeping these programs, and keeping them fully funded, was literally a matter of life and death — and that I hoped Sen. Flake would prove himself to be really pro-life.

I am very glad I chose to act as I did on this day of action instead of joining a group action. I felt my story made an impression and would get to the senator, and that’s what I wanted to accomplish.

Resisting Trump is an organized effort, since we are stronger when we work together, and there is room for whatever kind of action you are able to take. Indivisible has a list of groups around the country that are joining this effort; you can look for one near you. To contact your legislators, you can phone the congressional switchboard at 202-225-3121 and ask for your senator or representative by name; if you are not sure who your representative is, you can look it up here. If you would like to pay your senators a visit in person, Sen. McCain has offices in Phoenix, Prescott, and Tucson; Sen. Flake has offices in Phoenix and Tucson.

Postscript: On February 21, 2017, I attended a rally outside Sen. Flake’s Tucson office to support Planned Parenthood and oppose the repeal of the Affordable Care Act. I briefly visited the office before the rally began. The staff member I had spoken to, whose name is Julie, remembered me, and said she had seen this article about my earlier visit. I asked if she had told the senator my story, and she said yes, she had.

She wanted to correct one thing I had written. When she repeated that my story had happened 10 years ago after I had corrected it to nine and a half, she had intended to stress that as I was saying the CT scan had found cancer, she had not expected a “happy ending,” and the round number more clearly expressed her surprise and relief. I said I realized that — and as it was happening, I hadn’t expected a happy ending either. This was, for me, a pleasant and meaningful prelude to the rally that followed.

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