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History, Health Care Reform, and My Mother: A Reflection

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My mother would have loved this. There was a sense of history today as President Barack Obama signed the Health Care Bill into law. One of the most significant pieces of legislation in 50 years, it has a few hurdles and challenges yet to be met, even now. But its significance cannot be minimized for all its flaws.

If she were alive, I have no doubt my mother’s eyes would be on the television set in her assisted living apartment. She would be calling me within moments of the signing, as she would have even late Sunday night, asking if I was watching; if I was listening; if I, too, was a witness to history.

She passed away six weeks ago from sepsis after a urinary tract infection (UTI). She spent much time these last several years battling UTIs, in and out of hospitals. On Medicare, she never had to worry about destroying all she and my dad had worked for because of an illness or hospitalization. She would remind me as the health care debate raged last summer that Medicare, too, was controversial: the naysayers (also Republicans back then in the ‘60s) cried socialism! Communism! The end of the world as we know it (and I wonder how many of them would willingly now give it up).

My mom took a lot of drugs: for her thyroid, her COPD, arthritis, high blood pressure. Her prescription bills without Medicare Part D coverage would have been thousands of dollars every month. When she fell into the “donut hole” last fall and lost her coverage for medications (albeit temporarily), she threatened to stop buying some of her more expensive non-generics so she would not continue to see her nest egg continually and uncontrollably bleed. She often wondered how people without money – who were dependent upon only their social security checks to make it through the month, could possibly manage. 

But this reflection isn't about my mother’s health insurance coverage. It's about history in the making. She and I, mom and I, have been there together for so many historic moments – cheering, yelling at the television, excited, frustrated. It was part of our living and a cherished part of our sometimes contentious relationship.

I suppose it began (although I certainly don't remember) when she was pregnant with me back in 1954. I only know because she told me so many times. She and I (which is how she put it) watched along with the world during the Army-McCarthy hearings. She told me often that my political philosophy and sense of justice were set then – by what we witnessed together months before I was born.

Five years later, she sat me down and together we watched the televised debates between Richard Nixon and John F. Kennedy. History, she told me. We were watching history in the making. And so it went. I'd tag along to the voting booth with her on election days when she worked as a judge; I'd play with the demonstration machine, flipping the levers and completely entranced with the whole process.

By the time I was 13, politics was as much a part of my life as school and TV. We cheered LBJ’s decision not to run for re-election in 1968, and mourned the day that Nixon defeated Humphrey. Democratic conventions and Republican conventions watched end to end: something we shared and cherished then – and continued to share as the years went on and I grew up, even as we began to disagree more and more as I shaped my own political opinions. 

When something newsworthy happened, something that had the scent of history in the making, my phone would undoubtedly ring and before I had a chance to say “hello,” my mom would chant out excitedly, “Did  you hear? Were you watching?” Nixon’s resignation; election night 2008; Watergate; Irangate.

Had she been born later, I’m convinced my mother would have become addicted to Twitter and Daily Kos; to Huffington and Talking Points Memo. She had become hooked on Keith Olbermann, but liked him less when his “special comment” segment became overly preachy and hyperbolic. She switched her allegiance to Rachel Maddow.

What I missed most about Sunday night and today’s signing of the Health Care Bill was her inevitable phone call asking me if I’d been watching – witnessing – history. Somewhere up there, my mom is smiling. History was made today, and yes, Mom, I was watching.

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About Barbara Barnett

Barbara Barnett is publisher and executive editor of Blogcritics, as well as a noted entertainment writer. Author of Chasing Zebras: The Unofficial Guide to House, M.D., her primary beat is primetime television. But Barbara writes on an everything from film to politics to technology to all things pop culture and spirituality. She is a contributor to the book called Spiritual Pregnancy (Llewellyn Worldwide, January 2014) and has a story in Riverdale Ave Press' new anthology of zombie romance, Still Hungry for your Love. She is hard at work on what she hopes will be her first published novel.
  • http://jonsobel.com/ Jon Sobel

    Beautiful piece, Barbara.

    I like to think my being born during the Kennedy administration had something to do with how I turned out.

  • barbara barnett

    Thanks Jon. We are all products of our time.

  • Orange450

    A beautiful piece, Barbara.

    You’re doubly blessed – not only to have been able to form such a profound bond with your mother over political experiences that you shared, but also to have been graced with gift of articulate language to express it the way you did!

  • Jacquelyn

    Thanks Barbara for this. I wish my story were similar, but it’s just the opposite. HCR reform has driven my mother and I so far apart – she’s completely against it, and refuses to see how lucky she is to have both private health care through her pension as well as Medicare. When the private plan doesn’t cover everything, Medicare picks up the rest. And yet she’s crying about how this bill will destroy her health care. She forgets when I was a child and my father went into the hospital without insurance and ran up tens of thousands of dollars worth of bills. No one should have to suffer through medical bankruptcy for becoming ill.

    Here’s to greater knowledge, more informed opinions, and the recognition that change isn’t always easy – but the hardest fights are always the ones worth fighting for. I’m happy to have been a part of this history with my circle of friends, if not my family. Thanks for your thoughts.

  • Visitkarte

    I was so happy to hear Obama succeeded. It was a historical achievement, and it reminded me of the discussion in Switzerland when we made the health insurance mandatory… And, by the way, it was a completely different matter because it wasn’t nearly as desperate situation like you had in the States. We already had before an available and good functioning health insurance, but you were out of luck if you became a long term patient… for more than two years in a row… We did it 14 years ago… and so did you, finally! I’m happy for you and with you!

    And you wrote it so beautifully… I’m sure your mum is cheering with you!

  • Greg Barbrick

    Visitkarte-

    “I was so happy to hear Obama succeeded. It was a historical achievement”

    I could not have said it better myself. No matter what the paid naysayers whine about, or the sadly misguided lemmings who listen them, and vote against their own interests, this IS a historic moment.

    The arguments are the same as they were in the time of FDR: Progress vs naked greed. I love the fact that Obama beat the big insurance bullies. Health care was an aspect of America that has needed overhaul for decades. Bill Clinton attempted it, and was soundly shot down. Obama made it happen.

    It is just so sad that many of the very people who will benefit the most from this are listening to the “socialism” drivel being spouted.

  • reason

    Has anyone taken the time to read the bill for themselves rather than listening to the media?

  • http://delibernation.com Silas Kain

    Were it not for the media, where would we get our information? Were it not for FOX News, how would we know which members of Congress need to be threatened at their door steps? Without MSNBC how would those nasty Leftists get their message out?

    And why should we waste our time reading the actual bill? It’s going down, reason. There is no way it will prevail. It is destined for complete failure.

  • http://blogcritics.org/writers/a-geek-girl/ A Geek Girl

    Barbara, I went through hell with my son after his near fatal dirtbike accident. Our insurance coverage got yanked. I took a year’s hiatus from writing. I couldn’t bring myself to put pen to paper. I couldn’t write a word on my blog–Because I couldn’t find the words to express the depth of my fear, my grief. I was so overwhelmed by it.

    We lost everything trying to cover the medical expenses. But I have my son. I reminded myself of that every day. Why I needed to be grateful. That his life was all that mattered.

    If we hadn’t had that initial insurance coverage I’m not sure he would have made it. That insurance card got him straight into emergency surgery. He would have bled to death if he had to be shuttled to a ‘non-insurance’ hospital. His liver was severed in half. They would not have found that out if he hadn’t been taken straight into surgery. And that’s what they do here–refuse to take the uninsured, call the public hospital to come and pick them up. I just got goosebumps thinking about it. How close we came to losing him.

    When I committed myself to writing again I came here. I have no idea how I found BC, that whole period is still a blur. But I knew that, somehow, I would find my words once more. And that I would do it here. I wrote my first article Life One Year After Foreclosure about losing our home, but I couldn’t write about the accident or the call from the insurance company representative telling us we would no longer be covered. I couldn’t write that I broke down crying, sitting in the middle of my kitchen floor, begging this stranger to please help us. Or that she started crying too. But her hands were tied–and our fate was sealed.

    My son still needs several surgeries. His face, from his eye-sockets to his upper mandible, was ground to powder in the accident. The doctor said that he pulled back the skin and everywhere he touched the bone just sort of crumbled under his scalpel. They re-built his face with titanium plates and screws as quickly as they could because he was losing so much blood, and had already lost too much from his severed liver. They pumped three times the blood volume of a grown man into his skinny little body as they worked on him, and still he almost died twice from blood loss. They went back 2 months later and had to remove all of the hardware and start over. His face had just been too much of a mess for them to place it all correctly right after the accident.

    Now the cold weather makes his head ache so badly that he can’t see. It gives him awful migraines. But he never complains, just goes to his room and lays in the dark. There’s nothing I can do to help except keep a heating pad by his bed. Sometimes he asks me to lay beside him; he doesn’t want to be alone. Other times I hold his face in my hands to warm it up. Scar tissue is now forcing the screws up to the surface of his face. I can feel them under his skin. The pain is growing.

    I have insurance again, but they reject every claim as ‘pre-existing’. I’m positive that they don’t think of him as a person, as a human being. He is a claim number to them. Many times I have wondered what they would say if they had to sit in that dark room with him. If they had to witness his suffering.

    I’ve been waiting for this day. Praying for them to stop bickering and help us. Waiting for the time to come when I can schedule him to see a specialist and know that the insurance company can’t reject it before he even gets seen. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been called to the clerk’s window and told that the insurance company had pre-rejected him. How many times I’ve walked out and sat in my car and cried with my head against the steering wheel, trying to hide my face from passers-by.

    I’m so sorry that you lost your mother, that she wasn’t here to share this moment with you. This new history. But the words that Patrick Kennedy left on his father’s grave might be echoed by you tonight.
    Mom- The unfinished business is done.

    Thank you for the wonderful article. Sorry that my comment is so long (I tend to do that, you know ;) But I guess this was my unfinished business. And now it is done.