Cover Me

Huber, Sonya. Cover Me: A Health Insurance Memoir.  Lincoln, Nebraska; University of Nebraska Press, 2010.

I try not to do this, but I happened to read another review of Sonya Huber’s Cover Me (the Booklist review on the Clevnet catalog).  My fear is that reading another reviewer’s opinion on a work will only create an outline for developing my own opinions.  I like my reviews to be pure.  Needless to say, I made it three-fourths through Huber’s memoir of her diverse and often chaotic post-college years, told through her progression of health care coverage, with one line from the Booklist review stuck in my head:

It’s hard to be too sympathetic about her lack of coverage when she chooses to quit job after job (including eight with health insurance) that she finds dull or beneath her.

Bear with me, as I don’t mean to criticize the reviewer – who wrote a much more succinct and useful review than the one you are reading presently and who overall liked Cover Me.  I didn’t keep track, but the eight jobs quit with health insurance referenced is likely correct, but my reading was different.   With this sentence active in my mind, I was expecting to read Ayun Halliday, who wrote at least two humorous memoirs (Job Hopper and No Touch Monkey! and probably others by her that I have not gotten around to read) about reckless, youthful adventures in one’s twenties and onward.  I don’t need health insurance, because this job sucks! (This is a bad immitation of Halliday.) While Huber does have a sense of humor, I would not use the word reckless to describe her memoir.  To me, Cover Me perfectly captures (for some of us) those post-liberal arts degree years where one is trying to find his or her way with different jobs (home for runaway teens, community organizer, journalist, adjunct professor) in different towns (Minneapolis, Boston, Chicago, Columbus) with a series of youthful love interests and motherhood.  Each move is a progression to hopefully-something-better to build a future.  Sometimes this involves obtaining two Master degrees from Ohio State.  That is the bare bones of the memoir, dressed in Huber’s anxieties toward maintaining or losing benefits.

This brings me to my second misconception before reading Cover Me – the responsiblity falling on Floyd Skloot’s author blurb:

[…]Sonya Huber’s Cover Me is a scathing memoir of an uninsured young mother’s encounter with health care in America.

Though factually correct, this led me to think I was reading a personal critique of health care mixing the authors experience with researched arguments, similar to Barbara Ehenreich’s Nickled and Dimed or Bright-Sided.  While reading, and after completing, Cover Me, I found that this was not quite my take.  Yes, I would expect most readers to find issues with the access to health care outlined and there are several off-handed references to moving to Canada, but Huber has written a memoir first.  A memoir that goes into graphic details about an untreated urinary infection and her friends breast cancer treatment.  Huber story is of one who very much works the system, taking full advantage of health insurance available and overcoming socio-economic guilt to take advantage of government assistance – free clinics, WIC benefits, etc.  More case study than thesis.  While there are serious health care issues, it is always the anxiety of catastrophe that permeates her writing.  The happy ending involves Huber getting better insurance and getting treatment for health issues that had festered for decades.  A free market victory for those who get a good job.  Not quite a story that would be used in a single payer healthcare campaign (one of which Huber worked as a community organizer).

And finally my views were tainted in the simple fact that Cover Me is in the Class in America Series by University of Nebraska Press.  I can see readers diverging on the vantage point of the narrative.  I’m not sure where I stand, which makes the narrative all the more worth reading.  I would argue that health insurance is a class issue when words like “entitlement” are thrown around in political discussions.  Entitlements being government handouts giving to “those” who don’t want to pay for it.  But at the same time, Huber is from the class who “has” their own insurance covered, growing up solidly middle class and going to college.  The class that supposedly pays for the “entitlements” of others.  She is not from the entitlement class.  Many of Huber’s socioeconomic peers who are in her same financial situation simply do not carry or even attempt to find coverage.  For better and probably worse, they are gambling with the risk of bankruptcy or death.  Huber, probably very rationally, feared the consequences of running into health issues without any safety net.  It was this fear that exposed her true economic situation, where she requires free clinics and government assistance.  This reality becomes a class issue when a disgruntled magazine salesman at the posh Easton Town Center accuses her of lying about receiving welfare.  The annoying, guilt-laced sales pitch did not settle any policy issues or sell any magazines, but highlights how ones class is seen at that mall.

My point in writing this review: you will probably walk away with a different outlook from me when reading Cover Me.  Huber is a good storyteller, who is able to make a point without making a point.  Whatever that point may or may not be will probably be determined by the reader.  There is a fine art of ambiguity to writing a memoir.  Does one tell a story or make a point?  The best ones leave it up to the reader.  Good luck and stay healthy.

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