Saturday , February 24 2024
A reflection on history and the health care debate

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

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.

About Barbara Barnett

A Jewish mother and (young 🙃) grandmother, Barbara Barnett is an author and professional Hazzan (Cantor). A member of the Conservative Movement's Cantors Assembly and the Jewish Renewal movement's clergy association OHALAH, the clergy association of the Jewish Renewal movement. In her other life, she is a critically acclaimed fantasy/science fiction author as well as the author of a non-fiction exploration of the TV series House, M.D. and contributor to the book Spiritual Pregnancy. She Publisher/Executive Editor of Blogcritics, (

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