Jon Kyl Locks Constituents Out, but Will Arizona Opt Out?

03/18/2010 05:12 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

PHOENIX, AZ -- Senator Jon Kyl recently quipped to NBC's David Gregory on Meet the Press, "I'm not sure that it's a fact that more and more people die because they don't have health insurance."

Constituent Shirley McAllister took exception to Sen. Kyl's narrow view and decided to help him broaden his understanding. On October 26, McAllister and a small group of supporters stood in front of Kyl's office. McAllister carried with her a copy of a recently released Harvard medical study. The study analyzed data from national surveys carried out by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), assessed death rates after taking into account education, income, and many other factors, including smoking, drinking, and obesity. It estimated that lack of health insurance causes 44,789 excess deaths annually.

David Himmelstein, co-author of the study, associate professor of medicine at Harvard Medical School, and a primary care physician at Cambridge Health Alliance remarked, "The Institute of Medicine, using older studies, estimated that one American dies every thirty minutes from lack of health insurance. Even this grim figure is an underestimate -- now one dies every twelve minutes."

McAllister also wanted Senator Kyl to hear about the uninsured by bringing his attention to the plight of her daughter-in-law, Linnea, who is paralyzed with multiple sclerosis. McAllister strongly feels her daughter-in-law would not be nearly so sick if she had not been denied insurance and gone untreated for years. Although currently covered by a government insurance plan, Linnea, 51, is now only able to carefully chew food when it is hand fed to her. Although once a vibrant woman, her voice is now but a faint whisper.

For several minutes, McAllister and her small group of supporters, including former congressional candidate Bob Lord, stood in the hallway outside Senator Kyl's Phoenix office, able only to peer through its locked doors. Only after a receptionist was spotted and reporters began taking her photo was the small group reluctantly admitted. All cameras and press were barred from the office.

McAllister's group was ushered behind closed doors where they met with staffer, Jane Grace, a registered nurse who serves as Kyl's health care representative.

When told by a constituent that her prescribed medications were unaffordable without insurance, Grace responded that people can receive medications from community health centers. The constituent explained that, although she works, she can't afford insurance. She makes too much money to qualify for help through community health centers, but doesn't make enough to pay the monthly $5,000 for her medications.

During the meeting, Grace admitted that she believes people do die because they lack health insurance, but then later said that no one can make a direct correlation between not having health insurance and dying.

The group of constituents reminded Grace that the Harvard medical study indeed found a direct causation between lack of health care and death. Grace assured the group that she would read the study and share it with Senator Kyl.

After the meeting, McAllister expressed hope that Senator Kyl would take a look at the Harvard medical study and, by so doing, come to a new understanding that people do indeed suffer and die without health care insurance. She said, "I hope that Sen. Kyl will take a second look on possible reform to health care and a public option."

Former congressional candidate Bob Lord said after the meeting, "You'd have to be breathtakingly dishonest or breathtakingly ignorant to say what Kyl said. I'm willing to give him the benefit of the doubt and think he's ignorant."

As the small group went their way, word came in that U.S. Senator Harry Reid announced that Senate Democrats had agreed upon legislation that would include a public option provision, but would also include a provision for individual states to elect to opt out of granting their citizens an opportunity to choose public health care over private insurance.

Today Senator Kyl was quoted during a press conference as saying, "I agree that states should have the option to opt in."

As Kyl's office began to attract calls, his spokesman, Ryan Patmintra sent out an email titled "Correcting the Hill," using the language editors typically employ to reel back factual errors.

Today's report in The Hill regarding Senator Kyl's position on an "opt-in" for a government insurance plan is inaccurate. His statement was taken completely out of context, and he, along with every member of our caucus, does not support a government-run insurance plan in any form. Everyone who has been following this debate should know Senator Kyl has been leading the charge against a government takeover of our health-care system.

Since only two days earlier Kyl's constituents were first locked out, then the press was left out, the only question remaining is if Arizona will decide to opt out--or in.

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