Marcelas Owens, an 11-year-old from Seattle, headlined a press conference with Senate Democratic leadership on Thursday, telling a packed room of reporters that he wanted the president and Congress to come together and pass health insurance reform.
"I am here because of my mom," said Owens. "My mom was diagnosed with pulmonary hypertension in 2006. She missed so much work she lost her job. And when my mom lost her job, she lost her health care. And losing her health care ended up costing her her life."
He continued, "I don't want any other kids to go through the pain that our family has gone through. My grandma and I want Barack Obama and Congress and everybody to come together and to help get the health care bill passed."
Sen. Patty Murray (D-Wash.) has been telling her constituent's story for months, most notably at the White House health care summit in February. Speaking before Owens, she recalled how she met him at a rally in Washington.
"I went to that rally and, after I spoke, I turned around and there was this little boy looking right straight up at me with his big brown eyes," she said. "And he said to me, 'You can't let anybody die like my mom did.'"
Murray, along with Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.), said that Owens's story shows in stark terms why the country needs health insurance reform.
"When she lost her job, she lost her health insurance. Because she lost her health insurance, she lost her life," said Reid.
At least one conservative columnist wants to throw cold water on the Marcelas Owens narrative. Michelle Malkin wrote in a column that Democrats are using Owens as a "human kiddie shield." And, reprising her role in a coordinated conservative assault on the family of 12-year-old Graeme Frost during the battle over children's health insurance in 2007, Malkin questioned whether a failure of personal responsibility is not to blame for the death of Owens's mother.
"It's a heart-wrenching story, but the tale raises more questions than it answers," Malkin wrote. "Washington State offers a plethora of existing government assistance programs to laid-off and unemployed workers like Marcelas' mom. Why didn't she enroll? Second, she died nine months after she reportedly lost her health insurance. By the time she lost her coverage through her employer, she was apparently already in dire health straits. It's not clear that additional doctors' visits in the subsequent months would have prevented her death."
After the press conference, HuffPost caught up with Owens and his grandmother and asked him what it was like to address a room full of reporters.
"I wasn't nervous," he said, adding that it was his 24th media appearance. He's been in Washington all week participating in protests and meeting with members of Congress. HuffPost followed up with a question about politicians. What did Owens think about people who oppose health insurance reform?
"I don't have any bad comments," he said. "But I would like to say their opinion is their opinion and they can say what they want about me... and I'll just keep turning around and doing what I'm doing."