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Ady Barkan, ALS health care activist who confronted Sen. Jeff Flake, dies

Ady Barkan, a California health care activist who went viral for a 2017 plane conversation with former Sen. Jeff Flake, has died of ALS.

Ady Barkan, a prominent California health care activist, has tragically passed away at the age of 39 due to complications from ALS, a terminal neurodegenerative disease. This devastating news was announced on Wednesday by Be a Hero, a political organization that Barkan co-founded in 2018. Barkan was diagnosed with ALS in 2016, just four months before the birth of his son. ALS, also known as Lou Gehrig's disease, affects the nervous system, weakens muscles, and greatly impacts physical function.

Throughout his battle with ALS, Barkan emerged as a leader in the fight to protect the Affordable Care Act, which was former President Barack Obama's landmark health care reform law. His activism gained national attention when he engaged in a conversation with former Senator Jeff Flake during a flight in 2017. Flake, who was a one-term Republican senator from Arizona at the time and currently serves as the U.S. ambassador to Turkey, was urged by Barkan to vote against a GOP tax-cut bill that included a provision to eliminate the mandate for health insurance coverage in the Affordable Care Act. Barkan passionately explained to Flake the potential negative consequences such a move could have on his disability payments and rising medical costs. Despite their conversation, Flake ultimately voted in favor of the tax-cut bill.

Barkan's involvement in Arizona politics did not end there. In April 2018, his political organization, Be a Hero, invested a significant amount of money in supporting Democrat Hiral Tipirneni's campaign for the House from Arizona's 8th Congressional District. Tipirneni, a doctor and advocate for accessible health care, was running against Republican candidate Rep. Debbie Lesko to replace former Rep. Trent Franks, who resigned amidst sexual misconduct allegations. Although Tipirneni did not emerge victorious, Barkan's support for her highlighted the importance of health care in American politics.

Ady Barkan leaves behind his wife of 18 years, Rachael King, who is a professor of English literature at the University of California, as well as their two children, Willow and Carl. King took to Twitter to express her profound grief and to emphasize that Barkan was not only a dedicated health care activist but also a loving father and her life partner.

The loss of Ady Barkan is felt deeply by those who knew him and by the countless individuals who were inspired by his tireless advocacy for accessible health care. His legacy will continue to shape the ongoing conversations surrounding health care reform in America.

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