04.19.2019

Anita Malik on Her Move from Tech to Politics

Former tech executive and current candidate for Congress Anika Malik discusses the obstacles Americans face when it comes to reforming a broken healthcare system.

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CHRISTIANE AMANPOUR: Meanwhile, the U.S. 2020 election train is steaming full speed ahead. And while all eyes are on the presidential candidates, our next guest is running for a seat in Congress. Democrat Anita Malik is the daughter of Indian immigrants with a background in tech and she wants to unseat the experienced Republican incumbent, David Schweikert, in Arizona’s sixth district. And she told our Michel Martin how she plans to transform the traditionally conservative district.

MICHEL MARTIN: So, you decided to run, you throw your hat in the ring, figuratively speaking.

ANITA MALIK, U.S. DEMOCRATIC HOUSE CANDIDATE: Yes.

MARTIN: You, against some people’s odds, and here you are, a first-time candidate, you win your primary, you’re running a very competitive race, you’re within a couple of points of the incumbent, which was, you know, a lot of people kind of shocked by your race, it’s starting to get a lot of national attention because you’re like, wait, what’s going on here, this is part of this blue wave. And then, you know, the curve ball. Your husband got sick. What happened? Tell us the story.

MALIK: Yes. You know, we had won the primary. A couple weeks after that I had my big first debate with the incumbent and he was feeling sick, you know, we thought it was the flu, nothing to be concerned about, kind of on and off. But after that debate, that Friday, I remember it very clearly, you know, that rest of that weekend took a very drastic turn.

And there was personality change a little bit but it was mostly just he wasn’t functioning in a normal way and I — you know, I was running a campaign, here I was the nominee. And so, I tried to keep going. And a few days later I realized that there was something really wrong.

So, still think it was the flu because, you know, his symptoms were flu- like. So, I took him in to the doctor, you know, cancelled some appearances, and they were concerned enough that they said, “We don’t know what this is but you need to go in to the emergency room, it could be meningitis.” What it ended up being was bacteria got into his bloodstream, they still do not know how it happened, it happens to people sometimes as a fluke.

That bacteria went into his brain and it caused five abscesses in his brain, which is very unusual to have that many, let alone for it to happen in the first place. So, that started us off on — I don’t even know the best word, best adjective for that journey, but it was a journey that was very difficult to process because there weren’t a lot of answers, you know, even these top surgeons didn’t know always what to tell us. There was no answer of how this was going to turn out. And he was in the hospital for the next six weeks, all the way through to election day.

MARTIN: I can’t even think of any scenario where that would not have been frightening, exhausting, terrifying. I mean, he’s your husband, he’s the father of your kids.

MALIK: Right. Yes.

MARTIN: But on top of all that, you’re trying to figure out how to run this campaign. What was the thought process? I mean, was there ever a point at which you thought about withdrawing?

MALIK: Yes. You know, I mean, the information came so trickling in about what the — what was going on with him, what would the next step be, which hospital was he moving to next, right. So, every day was just putting one foot in front of the other and figuring out, how do I manage everything.

Obviously, the kids were my number one priority, I had to pick of the three things that were happening where I would focus that energy. We had the family with him so that I could be places where I needed to be but also make sure I saw him every day and was there to talk to his doctors, and I talk to the party. I mean, I was honest about it. I said, “What do we do here? You know, I’m on the ballot but I want to do this.” And in his moments of being aware, because I will tell you, in six weeks, it went up and down with different, you know, things that happened with the brain, that is normal. He doesn’t remember a lot of it. But in moments where I knew he was with us and having those conversations, we talked about it, and he wanted me to see it through.

You know, we are the type of family that believes — you know, we’re that risk taker family, but we’re also the ones that — it’s just — it’s principle. There is so much wrong in this world, and I wanted to obviously have all the wins. I wanted him to be OK, and we wanted to win this race. But it was one of those moments where I just had to keep going and I felt compelled that that was the right thing to do for everyone. I will say the community; my team were amazing. I had a lot of support and knowing I had that support once we were able to communicate it a little bit was — gave me that ability to have that strength to do it.

MARTIN: So, election day comes; you fall short. You fall short.

MALIK: Yes.

MARTIN: And you know, not unusual, a first-time candidate running against an entrenched incumbent. You know, no disrespect to the incumbent, but incumbents have advantages.

MALIK: Yes.

MARTIN: You fall short. Then, dealing with the aftermath — and this is one of the reasons we called you is that you wrote about this in detail, the bills start rolling in. What was the shocker?

MALIK: The shocker was I thought that I have, you know, 35,000 to 40,000 normal bills after insurance, after deductibles, you know, you have your 80/20, some things they tagged on us even though we were in network hospitals but they were out of network physicians. But then, one day, I opened the mail to add to my pile and I received a bill for $142,000. Now, I was on insurance at the time.

MARTIN: Can I hear that again? $142,000?

MALIK: $142,000 for 10 days of hospital care.

MARTIN: That’s not the cumulative, that’s one bill?

MALIK: No. That’s one bill, yes. Yes.

MARTIN: OK. And what was that for?

MALIK: One — that was for 10 days of hospital care. So, none of the doctors at that time, all that separate, and he had a surgery in that timeframe, but that’s separate, the surgeon’s cost. So, this was just for the hospital care. He was in the ICU, neuro ICU. And you get that bill… and my first instinct was, I need to make a call right now.

And, you know, I checked the time and I called the hospital immediately, I tried to figure out what was going on, why didn’t insurance pay for this. I couldn’t tell my husband. It took me about two days to tell him because he was going through this process of how did this all happen to me, you know, remembering things, trying to understand what’s going on, and then also dealing with the bills that we thought we were going to manage $30,000 to $40,000 and he was helping with that process and feeling, how do we get here, even for that amount, right? You know, I didn’t go out and buy some fancy thing that I can’t afford.

MARTIN: What did he say when you told him?

MALIK: He handled it much better than I did, to be honest with you. You know, I really went through panic mode. And he listened to me, I told him all our options, I told him, you know, “We can file a claim with the insurance, we’ll work with the hospital, this is, you know, what the plan is, this is what we’re going to do.” And he looked at me, I remember, in our kitchen, I remember it distinctly, and he said, “I’m just grateful to be here.” And I mean, it’s heartbreaking. It’s heartbreaking to know that people, families, the people that go through the illnesses have to deal with this at the end and to feel that. That suddenly now you have a new burden and it’s a burden on your family as well. That’s not okay. It’s not okay.

MARTIN: One of the reasons that you ran for Congress is to defend and presumably shore up the Affordable Care Act. It’s my understanding that you have insurance because you’re an entrepreneur and I believe your husband is as well, right?

MALIK: Right, yes.

MARTIN: Through the Affordable Care Act. Now, some people would look at your situation and say, “See, this is exactly the problem. The Affordable Care Act makes you kind of a serf of the land,” right? You’re tied to —

MALIK: Right, right.

MARTIN: — only one, you know, place and you have very few options, it isn’t doing what it’s supposed to do. You know, and other people look at that and say, “See, look. See, what would have happened if this family hadn’t had access to insurance through the Affordable Care Act?” And you know, what do you say about that?

MALIK: Yes, I think, like all policy, it’s extremely complex. But the bottom line for us and for, I think, all families is the Affordable Care Act is not perfect and we have to remember that. But to completely get rid of it and to say we’re going to repeal it without a real solution to get to universal coverage, which is something I believe in, is not going to work either.

For us, if we hadn’t had the preexisting conditions that are in place today, he wouldn’t have even gotten any insurance. I mean, he now has a major preexisting condition. If we were, you know, at a situation where, you know, it was a choice between — it really became a choice between life and debt, really, right, and life and death. And so, for me, the ACA is not perfect and there’s a lot of work to be done. And we have to remember that people have been pulling things out of it. You know, Arizona at the time when I had to choose a plan had one plan, and so that’s the situation we were in.

But guess what? I have insurance for my kids. We can go to — his follow- up care has been covered. We’re not paying those high amounts. We have insurance. And so, I’m grateful for it. I’m not angry at the system for this bill in terms of the ACA, specifically, but I think that I’m angry that we don’t have more standards in place, we don’t have more protections in place, and that we haven’t moved to universal coverage so that people don’t have to have this capitalistic sense of, well, you get what you pay for.

MARTIN: One of the things that you wrote about in your piece, in your blog post for Medium is just how devastating it is to go through a serious illness to be trying to take care of somebody and these bills are coming and now the financial worry takes over. So, what’s the answer to that? Is it universal coverage? Is it single payer?

MALIK: It’s a Medicare for All type system. It’s universal coverage. My frustration is talk about how we’re going to get there. The reality is that families are facing this every day, every day. And instead of actually making progress, building the ACA into that universal care model, into Medicare for All, making those steps, we can make those steps. I guarantee you if we could have that across the aisle conversation if we really wanted to, if we are really focused on this microeconomic story of what’s happening to families. That’s why I shared my story, because I don’t think we actually look at it from the family level.

MARTIN: But you do have the aspiration to be a policy maker.

MALIK: I do.

MARTIN: What’s the answer? Is this singer payer health insurance or is there some other model that you would embrace? And if so, what is that? What does that look like?

MALIK: So, I believe in — I do believe in Medicare for All. I would embrace that. I would sign off on that. Every American deserves healthcare. It is a right. I’m firm on that. I always just want to say that, you know, how are we going to get there? Let’s start working on it right now because I’m frustrated. I’m frustrated as not a policy maker, but as a voter and a constituent and a person that’s struggling with that and — but that is the answer.

Without that, we can’t start to improve our process. We can’t start to improve people’s life span. You know, there’s a reason we don’t focus on wellness and prevention here. So, if we have universal coverage, if every single person has that health care baseline as a foundation, it doesn’t mean we’re not going to have other, perhaps, private insurance market on top of that, you know, until we get full system. I think that will take some time. But let’s first give everybody insurance. Let’s start there.

MARTIN: So, the idea of Medicare for All means what? That there is a pool, there’s an insurance mechanism that’s available for people who can’t get insurance on the private market —

MALIK: Yes.

MARTIN: — or don’t want to and that, what, then there’s a private insurance market on top of that? Is that the idea?

MALIK: I don’t think private insurance will entirely go away immediately. So, that’s why I say yes. There might be private insurance on top of that, I think that’s okay. I would like to see that insurance market have more regulation and standards so things like the in network, out of network problems don’t happen because that happens on a very regular basis. We need to regulate that industry a little tighter but I think it’s not an exception to say that this is going to go away completely.

MARTIN: And as to the cost question, how is Medicare for All paid for, in your view?

MALIK: Well, what I challenge people to look at when we talk about how is it paid for is what is the cost of everything right now. You know, what is the cost of people not having healthcare that rises the cost of everything? And this is an economic issue, healthcare as a whole. And so, how it’s going to be paid for.

I mean, there’s a lot of things we can look at, we can look at our tax system, we can look at the way we tax capital gains. There’s a lot of different ways. And if we make — we have to remember, Medicare for All doesn’t mean it’s a complete handout. I think we should have subsidies for people that can’t afford it but it’s a buy-in option as well. You know, this isn’t a complete like let’s give away everything away for free and people often forget that in the rhetoric around Medicare for All.

MARTIN: You’ve gone through this incredible experience.

MALIK: Yes.

MARTIN: Well, I think the first question I think a lot of people are going to ask is, are you prepared to run again? You fell a little short last time. Are you prepared to run again?

MALIK: I am. I am prepared to run again, and I am running again. We’re very happy to be announcing that. And it’s, you know, it’s — we fell short but, you know, we’re in a conservative district that it takes time. It takes work. And I feel very strongly that this is a time, that this is the cycle, we’re getting more attention for the foundation that we built in this district, and we’re ready to do it.

MARTIN: And what about funding your campaign? Are you pledging not to take any money from healthcare interests?

MALIK: I did not take any corporate PAC money, healthcare, fossil fuel, any of that last cycle, and I pledge to not take any corporate PAC money this time. That’s very important to me. You know, I also don’t believe that money determines the winner. That’s kind of an old school way of looking at politics. What I believe is you need enough money to fund your campaign, to get your message out, to do it strategically.

MARTIN: And forgive me for asking but you also —

MALIK: Yes.

MARTIN: — have, what, like $180,000 worth of debt to pay? If I have that right.

MALIK: Yes. For me, this time, it is extremely costly, and I will have to treat it differently. I will be a candidate, to be quite honest, that this year I will be working. I’ll be back consulting for tech companies because I do have this large debt. But that doesn’t diminish my passion for this. It actually makes me more keen on doing this because — and I want to send the message that, look, healthcare is important. Obviously, we need to fix that. We need to do something. We need to solve those problems but we also need to look at what is the candidate that we’re looking for. What is our democracy about? Should it be that way? Should it be that only people that are completely financially secure can run for office and represent us? And with the wealth divide, that’s going to be — continue to be a problem.

MARTIN: And how is your husband? How is he doing?

MALIK: He’s doing amazing. He has crossed all his recovery milestones and that’s why I was able to get to this decision. He’s been given his driving privileges back, which is great for me as a co-parent because he can take the kids places. And so, yes, he’s doing great. There is — you know, everyone has told us there’s no reason to have any concern. You know, he’ll have his check-ups and — but again, this was not a chronic condition or something. This was a fluke, a very, very scary one, and we’re just very grateful for everyone that treated him and worked on his case.

MARTIN: Anita Malik, thanks so much for talking to us.

MALIK: Thank you. I really appreciate it.

About This Episode EXPAND

Christiane Amanpour speaks with Irish Deputy Prime Minister & Foreign Minister Simon Coveney about Brexit; and novelist Ian McEwan about his new book “Machines Like Me.” Michel Martin speaks with Anita Malik, a candidate for the House of Representatives whose background is in tech, about how she hopes to transform the traditionally conservative area.

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