Meet Kayser Enneking, the doctor trying to save Florida

Few governors have been as publicly ineffective during the coronavirus crisis than Florida’s Ron Desantis. He’s kept beaches open, continues to hide death numbers, kowtows to the state’s ravenous right-wing, and has opened up businesses even as the tragic numbers there continue to climb. DeSantis has been able to do all this because Republicans own the entire state government in Florida — they’ve dominated the legislature for a full two decades — and he therefore feels zero pressure to actually make an effort to save lives.

We’ve focused a lot of Florida this year because Democrats are in a position to finally flip the legislature there and force DeSantis to at least pretend he cares about anyone who isn’t a rich white donor. This week, I spoke with Kayser Enneking, a candidate for the State House of Representatives in District 21, in Gainesville. She’s a long-time doctor at the University of Florida who ran for State Senate in 2018 — her first political run of any kind — and came within a single point of winning. The 21st House district was decided by fewer than three points last cycle, so it’s a very juicy flip opportunity, especially with such a great candidate.

Coronavirus has hit different parts of Florida very differently. You’re in Northern Florida, in Gainesville. How are things there?

In my hospital we were certainly prepared for the worst. It was just incredibly weird to go to work for a couple of weeks. The panic about it seems to have subsided now that we’ve got more testing, because before we had no clue who had it and who didn’t. But even here in very liberal Alachua County, it is kind unbelievable to me how quickly this has gotten divided along political lines. It’s just a shame that that’s where we are in America today.

As both a doctor and someone now working in public policy, what is your response to what we’re seeing here? 

This is a novel virus. We know a little bit about what the symptoms look like. We know that it is devastating when it occurs and we know that it can overwhelm a healthcare system, as it did in New York, and as it did in other places around the world. And that we all have to be respectful of it. We may not have in many cases over here right now, but that does not mean that we won’t.

I have tried not to scare people. But I’ve tried to give them what I know to be truthful information. We’ve been doing these Facebook and zoom things every Friday, where we’ve talked about exactly what we do know and what we don’t know. And people have been really responsive to it. And so we’ve talked about the effects of this on our health care system. We’ve talked about it in terms of what it means for education. We’ve talked about it in terms of what it means for the agricultural community, why are we having this food imbalance. Now we’re calling for a special session of legislature.

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Sara Bitter’s Ohio race is a chance to rethink government

I hope this edition of Progressives Everywhere finds you safe and healthy. As a New Yorker, I’m fortunate to report that I’m healthy and hanging in there, even as I enter the fourth week of quarantine inside my apartment. The chaos and human suffering unfolding around the city is beyond tragic, and it’s frustrating that all people can do to help immediately is donate money to hospitals and worker funds (donate to our fundraiser for workers here) and order take-out from struggling restaurants.

While long-time readers will know that I’ve never been a fan of Gov. Andrew Cuomo, I can give him credit for taking charge and executing a plan with focus and something like compassion (we will talk about his proposed Medicaid cuts and refusal to tax the rich later). But the COVID-19 pandemic has made it crystal clear that no level of government is prepared to handle the demand for healthcare or other needs of working people or small businesses. Congress just doesn’t seem to grasp the seriousness of the pandemic — the focus there is still on ego and big corporate handouts. The kind of out-of-control ego and big corporate handouts that wind up exacerbating these problems and killing people.

We need people in government who understand what it is to struggle. We need representatives who are ready to advocate for disadvantaged groups that don’t have big money lobbyists or even the ability to fight for their own causes. We need people like Sara Bitter, an incredible candidate for the Ohio House of Representatives.

I first spoke with Sara before the outbreak really hit the United States, but I don’t think it could be more relevant to what we’re experiencing right now, when so many people are being left to struggle on their own. Sara is a lawyer in Ohio and a mother of two children with developmental disabilities. Instead of practicing law in the courtroom, she’s become a professional advocate for families with special challenges, fighting for policies that will help the millions of people in similar positions live with dignity and be full members of their communities.

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Republicans set the stage for the COVID-19 pandemic. These Democratic candidates explain how their policies can fix it.

Winning elections in November and flipping states blue is now a matter of life and death.

The Trump Administration has gotten plenty of stick for its absolute failure to respond to (or, for a while, even believe in) the COVID-19 pandemic, all more than deserved. Unfortunately, Trump’s nuclear stupidity and extreme culpability for the immediate crisis have overshadowed an important fact: the entire Republican Party bears responsibility for not only setting the conditions for the pandemic’s spread, but also guaranteeing the dire situations in which so many people now find themselves.

The COVID-19 response bill that the House passed on Friday (and is still waiting for a vacationing Mitch McConnell to take a look at) is egregiously flawed, but our safety net is so thin that it still contains the most basic contours of policies that should have been passed generations ago. From refusing paid sick leave and expanded healthcare coverage to the privatizing of hospitals and supply chains that have stores short on basic necessities, Republicans have created this situation with 40 years of assaults on government and economic equality.

Because so many of these policies are left to states to handle, flipping legislatures blue this year will be essential to ensuring Americans are not left helpless and vulnerable going forward.

With this in mind, Luisa Wakeman, a cardiac nurse running for State House in Georgia, is redirecting her campaign’s resources into efforts to help the community navigate through COVID-19.

“As a nurse, I worry about the healthcare system, and whether we will have sufficient resources to help the sick when the pandemic reaches a peak,” she tells me. “I worry about where we are in the progression of the virus since there are no data points that we could have had with preparation and testing. I worry about the healthcare workers who will forget to care for themselves while working long hours to save more lives.

“My campaign is in a unique position to have a pulse on the community, volunteers at the ready and a network of phenomenal people who care about helping others,” she adds. “As a nurse, I can be a resource for answering questions and sharing factual information.”

CLICK HERE to donate to Democrats running to flip state legislatures blue via Progressives Everywhere’s ActBlue page!

Continue reading “Republicans set the stage for the COVID-19 pandemic. These Democratic candidates explain how their policies can fix it.”

Inching toward universal healthcare: New York City to guarantee healthcare to everyone, Washington State plans a public option

A demented old racist has taken our federal government and TV news bureaus hostage, so it’s easy to overlook the progressive policy announcements made over the last few days. But with new Democratic administrations taking office and others looking to make a splash, it’s been a good few days, especially for healthcare policy.

In New York on Tuesday, Mayor Bill de Blasio announced that the city would be moving toward guaranteed healthcare for undocumented immigrants and low-income residents. It’s not any kind of Medicaid expansion — states run that program — or new health plan, but instead, a guarantee of proactive care that won’t cost patients anything if they can’t afford to pay.

From the NY Times:

The city already has a kind of public option for health insurance for low-income New Yorkers, through an insurance plan run by city hospitals known as MetroPlus.

The new proposal would improve that coverage, which already insures some 516,000 people, and aim to reach more of those who are eligible, such as the young and uninsured, and others who qualify but have not applied.

It would also provide additional direct city spending, at least $100 million per year when fully implemented, officials said, for the city’s hospital system to support care for those without insurance. The city estimates the uninsured population to be about 600,000 people, including as many as 300,000 undocumented residents. A major component of that effort would be improving customer service, including the phone line, to help those with questions about their care.

The program will have a membership card that will allow patients to get care from a wide array of doctors. Right now, over half a million people use the city’s emergency rooms for their medical care, which is a very unhealthy and fiscally disastrous status quo. According to NBC New York, this new program will allow people to seek “primary and specialty care, from pediatrics to OBGYN, geriatric, mental health and other services.”

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Arkansas kicks 17,000 people off Medicaid in three months; other states plan to join in

As working people in several red states celebrate the official expansion of Medicaid due to victorious ballot initiatives, others living under the boot of cruel Republican governors are beginning to lose their health care en masse.

Last summer, Arkansas became the first state to implement work requirements as a condition of receiving Medicaid, a new and pernicious hurdle made possible by waivers offered by the Trump administration. The new law requires some Medicaid recipients ages 30-49 to spend at least 80 hours a month working, volunteering, or looking for a job. So far, 17,000 vulnerable people have been kicked off their bare-bones state healthcare because they did not meet the threshold.

That number is bad enough, but the context makes it even more disgusting. Most people on Medicaid in Arkansas were not required to report their hours because they were already either employed, have a small child at home, disabled, or otherwise unable to work. The Kaiser Family Foundation broke down the numbers for November, and they don’t paint a pretty picture:

“The large majority (83%, or 53,975 people) were exempt from the reporting requirement for November 2018,” the center reports, “while 78% of those not exempt (8,426 out of 10,768) did not report 80 hours of qualifying work activities.”

It’s clear that people on Medicaid want to work, as nearly 98% of those exempt were indeed employed for more than 80 hours a month. So what happened to the non-exempt people?

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