Disability rights group protests health care bill at Sen. Flake’s office

Protester Toni Saia got out of her wheelchair and lay on a conference room table in Sen. Jeff Flake’s Phoenix office to protest the American Health Care Act proposed by Republican lawmakers. (Photo courtesy of Vicki Cusino)

Protestors chant “Save Medicaid liberty,” in the office of Sen. Flake. (Photo by Devin Conley/Cronkite News)

Stephanie Hydal leads protesters in a chant while on the phone with protesters inside a conference room at Republican Sen. Jeff Flake’s Phoenix office. (Photo by Devin Conley/Cronkite News)

PHOENIX – Members of a disability rights group protested a proposed health care bill at Sen. Jeff Flake’s office, urging him to vote against the controversial bill.

The protest was the second in two weeks at Flake’s office. He and fellow Republican Sen. John McCain have said they will study the Senate bill before deciding whether to support it.

Adapt, an advocacy group, asked to speak with Flake to convince him to vote “no” on the Senate bill, which state health officials say could cost Arizona as much as $7.1 billion through 2026.

Republican conservatives and moderates are divided over the bill, while many Democrats oppose it.

More than 15 protesters gathered in the Flake office lobby, chanting and handing hand-written letters to staff members. Many protesters were in wheelchairs or were visually impaired.

“If this bill passes my services will be limited and cut so much that I won’t have enough hours in caregiving services for someone to come help me,” said Leonard Smith, who uses a wheelchair after he was paralyzed 26 years ago in an auto accident. He said he relies on Medicare for services to help him get ready for work in the morning.

“This is the difference between me being independant and being trapped in a nursing home,” Smith said.

Members of Flake’s office offered the protesters food and drink but they weren’t satisfied.

“We don’t food or drink,” said Corinne Perez. “We want a ‘no’ vote.”

Staffers told them Flake is gathering information on the bill, according to Stephanie Hydal, an Adapt member.

“He’s shown no interest with meeting with constituents,” Hydal said.

The group lead in the lobby while six people were allowed inside the conference room to wait.

“We’re not leaving until we get a ‘no’ vote,” Perez said from the conference room. “This affects everyone. Everyone has a chance to become disabled at some point.

One protester, Toni Saia, said she climbed out of her wheelchair and laid down on the conference room table.

Perez said Saia’s move was “to symbolize a coffin.” Perez said. “Medicare pays for medical equipment and care. It’s the difference between life and death.”