Nabilah Islam: What It’s Like to Run for Congress During a Pandemic—When You Don’t Have Insurance

This week, I found out my mom was laid off from her $14-an-hour job because the novel coronavirus has forced the small business where she works to downsize. As we talked about whether she’d be able to afford her mortgage and bills, I was heartbroken. But our conversation was also a reminder of what motivated me to run to serve in the House of Representatives. Across Georgia, where I live, there are countless people like my mom, who are living paycheck to paycheck, who can’t afford health insurance, who are struggling to survive. And that number includes me. I’m running for Congress, and I don’t have health insurance either.

Here’s what I do have: around $30,000 in student loans and almost no savings left. Back in February 2019, when I decided to enter the race to represent Georgia’s 7th District, I knew I couldn’t afford health insurance. The prospect of spending 18 months without doctors’ visits or prescription medicine was daunting, but I felt like the moment was bigger than me. I was fighting for neighbors and friends, people who’ve been ignored for too long. Then coronavirus hit our state, and campaigning without health insurance went from an inconvenience and a risk to a nightmare.

For a grassroots candidate like me to win, I have to talk to thousands of voters, face-to-face, for months on end—and now I can’t contact voters in person at all.

When I decided to run for Congress, I knew I’d have to build the kind of campaign that relied on shaking hands and knocking doors. For one, I’m a 30-year-old Bangladeshi woman and the daughter of working-class immigrants—I don’t have wealthy donors who can fund endless television and radio ads to get our message out.

But more than that, I wanted to hear from the people in my district in their own words—and understand their needs and concerns. In an average week, pre-coronavirus, I attended four or five campaign events, knocked around 300 doors, and shook hundreds of hands.

But as soon as the pandemic came to Georgia, I knew the campaign needed an overhaul.

Since I have no health insurance, I have no trusted doctor to turn to if I am exposed to someone with the virus. Like countless uninsured Georgians, If I am exposed, do somehow access a test, and end up testing positive, I’d have no recourse to afford doctors’ services. Even if testing is made available to the uninsured at no cost, fees for treatment could add up—fast. That means meeting with voters in person is no longer safe—not for me, and not for them, since hundreds, if not thousands, of them are in the same situation I am.

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