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Monday, March 15, 2010

Marcelas Owens: Our Youngest Health Care Lobbyist

Tara Bostock

Staff Writer

When I was in elementary school, I spent my time playing in my backyard or running around with my friends on the playground, I certainly didn't think much about health care. But that's probably because I didn't have to: I was always covered through one of my parents' jobs and so was my entire family.

Marcelas Owens is a different kind of kid. When Marcelas was just 7 years old, his mom passed away fighting a condition called pulmonary hypertension, or abnormally high blood pressure in the arteries that supply the lungs. Since he lost hismom, Marcelas has become one of America's youngest health reform advocates.

Marcelas's mom, Tifanny, worked as an assistant manager atan area Jack in the Box, where she had health care. Then she got sick. She got so sick, she could no longer go to work. As a result, she lost her job, and with it, her health insurance. Tifanny didn't qualify for Medicaid, so she avoided getting care-even when she was throwing up blood-because she couldn't afford it. When things got really bad, she went to the emergency room and was hospitalized. The second time this happened, she was diagnosed with pulmonary hypertension. When she was hospitalized a third time, she slipped into unconsciousness and died.

Marcelas has turned his own tragedy into a fight for health care for all. He told his story to his U.S. Senator, Patty Murray (D-WA), andshe in turn, told it to President Obamaat the Health Care Summit that took place two weeks ago. And this week, Marcelasflew to Washington, D.C. from Seattle, Washington to advocate for health reform by attending a rally,visiting Congress members (including a fun visit to Sen. Patty Murray's office,see picture below), and telling his story to lawmakers and the press.

In an interview with CBS, Marcelas talked about his mom's struggle, "She ended up passing away because she didn't have the equal rights to health care as some people with more money."He also gave a heart-wrenching interview to MSNBC, where he said, "everybody deserves health care."

We are lucky to have such a strong young man to voice the importance of passing health reform to the members of Congress. But having to go through a tragedy like this at such a young age is devastating. Marcelas's mom would have benefited greatly from health care reform. She would have been ableto go to the doctor for preventive care, instead of to the emergency room when she had no other choice and needed treatment. And Marcelas wouldn't have to talk about -- or even think about -- our health care system; he could justenjoy being a kid.

Sen Owens

Photo of Marcelas is courtesy of Sen. Patty Murray's website.