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Governor Promises To Provide Free Health Care For All Black Kentuckians Who Need It

MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:

Free health care for all black Kentuckians who need it - Kentucky Gov. Andy Beshear made that pledge yesterday. It is one of several steps the Democrat says he's taking to address racial inequality in his state. Gov. Beshear joins me now from the capital.

Governor, welcome.

ANDY BESHEAR: Thank you for having me.

KELLY: So walk me through this. You said you're going to, quote, "begin an effort" to insure all black people in Kentucky who do not have health insurance. What what's the timing? How quickly can you offer this?

BESHEAR: Well, I believe that health care is a basic human right. And when I ran for governor, I made a pledge that we would sign every Kentuckian up for some form of health care coverage. But COVID-19 has laid bare what health care inequality results in, and that's death. And so what I've tried to do is listen - listen to the demonstrations that are going on, listen to leaders in the black community. And what I'm hearing is a call for being a priority.

KELLY: What is the timing? You've pledged this. How quickly can you do it?

BESHEAR: We're starting right away. It's going to be a multifaceted campaign that is going to involve anchors in our black and African American communities to help us find individuals out there that are not covered. We've done something like this in the past when we expanded Medicaid and had the largest drop in our uninsured rate in the United States a couple administrations ago. So we have an overall game plan. But what's different this time is our absolute priority on making sure we cover our black and African American Kentuckians first because of historic inequality, but also because in COVID-19, we're seeing deaths at twice the rate. And that's not right.

KELLY: I do want to ask about the protests. My co-host Ari Shapiro was in Kentucky last week reporting. He went and visited the place where David McAtee, the chef, was shot and killed after National Guard forces and police were called to break up a gathering after curfew. They say they were returning fire. There's no body cam footage. This is what Attica Scott, the only African American woman in the Kentucky state legislature, told us.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED NPR BROADCAST)

ATTICA SCOTT: It makes me angry that police violence is being met with more police violence. Mr. McAtee had never been an issue for anyone. He was loved by his community. And then suddenly, we get the National Guard and the state police, and he's dead. And we cannot turn our eyes away from the fact that that occurred because of this escalation from law enforcement against our community.

KELLY: Gov. Beshear, I want to let you respond to that. Was it a mistake for heavily armed National Guard forces to go break up a barbecue after curfew far from the protest?

BESHEAR: Well, what we have pledged is an independent investigation into Mr. McAtee's death. We have been releasing details as we go. What I've pledged and what people deserve is the absolute truth about every event that occurred there and what led up to it.

KELLY: And I know you want to wait on that investigation, but may I ask, do you regret sending in the National Guard?

BESHEAR: Well, when the National Guard was requested, it was after a Friday where we had seen demonstrations that had turned from peaceful to violent and/or with significant property damage. And so at the time of the escalation of tensions, I believe the National Guard was necessary. Now, that doesn't mean that anybody wanted this incident to occur. This is an individual that I know was beloved by the community. And we want to make sure we get the truth out there so that everybody can evaluate exactly what happened.

KELLY: I also want to ask you about Breonna Taylor and the tweet today from Kamala Harris. Senator Harris tweeted this, and I'll quote, "it's past time for all three police officers who murdered Breonna Taylor to be arrested. There is no reason for them to still be roaming free." What is your response, Governor? Does the no-knock warrant system that allowed that to happen need to change?

BESHEAR: Oh, I think we definitely must look at the no-knock warrants and to, in the very least, limit them, if not ultimately eliminate them. We need to learn, especially from tragedies, on how to do anything better. We always ought to be willing to evaluate policies and procedures. And that's across the board.

KELLY: And to Sen. Harris' point, there's no reason for those officers still to be roaming free. What's your answer to that?

BESHEAR: That investigation is sitting in front of our attorney general right now, right across the hall from me in the Commonwealth. And we are awaiting any action from him.

KELLY: Andy Beshear is the Democratic governor of Kentucky.

Governor, thank you.

BESHEAR: Thank you very much. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Hey, thanks for reading.
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