Over the years I have repeatedly noticed and wondered why the people who run for national office always seem to be wealthy. One of the exciting aspects about the 2018 election was the unusual number of women of color and working class people who ran and were elected to the House of Representatives. Isabella Grullón Paz, writing for the New York Times, explains that often women of color and working-class people who decide to run for office must give up their health insurance in order to do so, which is a very big decision. Nabilah Islam, a Democrat running to replace a retiring Republican in Atlanta explains, “When you run for office, you can’t do this part time. The deck is stacked against you if you do it part-time.” Consequently, because we do not have universal health insurance in this country, people lose their health insurance when they leave their jobs to run for office if they are working class. This is a big price to pay for public service and is a structural barrier for many working-class people who would like to run for office.
Paz gives examples of several working-class women of color currently running for office who gave up their employer-sponsored health insurance to run:
- Cori Bush is running for the second time to defeat a ten-term incumbent in Missouri. She is running on a platform that includes expanding access to healthcare, but she herself gave up her health insurance when she decided to run. She explains that she did not make the decision to give up her health insurance lightly and is now facing large medical bills after contracting COVID-19, from which she is recuperating.
- Samelys López is running for the House from New York’s Fifteen District and has no healthcare insurance. She states that healthcare should be a human right. López states, “I shouldn’t have had to make that choice” between running for office and having employer-sponsored healthcare.
- Nabilah Islam is running to replace a retiring Republican in Atlanta, and she has no health insurance. She explains, “It was something that I forwent because running for office is cost-prohibitive, and it’s expensive to pay for health care.” Islam lost her insurance in 2018 when she left her job.
- Jessica Cisneros lost a primary race last month and ran her campaign while uninsured, even though she provided health insurance for her full-time staff.
Paz notes, “The Democratic Party has often called for greater representation by candidates of color and working-class people. But many of those people are less likely to have health insurance.” Lack of health insurance is a structural barrier to being able to run for office. If the Democratic Party is serious about wanting greater representation among our lawmakers, they need to fund health insurance for candidates of color and working-class people.
Photo by Bret Kavanaugh on Unsplash