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In My Words: 'Sleeping soundly, feeling better'

Professor Rosemary Haskell reflects on her own family in a newspaper column to answer the election-year question of being "better off."

Professor Rosemary Haskell

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The following column was published recently by the (Durham, N.C.) Herald-Sun via the Elon University Writers Syndicate.

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Sleeping soundly, feeling better
By Rosemary Haskell - haskell@elon.edu

These days, politicians of all stripes ask us whether we are better off now than we were four years ago. Well, it depends upon what you mean by “better off.”

While many of us may not have more money or more work than we did in 2008 – we may even have less – we do have something else: the satisfaction of knowing we now live in a country which officially, at least, cares about the health and well-being of all its citizens, and not only of those lucky enough to have the magic insurance card in their wallets.

Now, the health care reform legislation of 2010 ensures that all Americans will be able to consult a doctor about their sickness (and health) a few steps before they would otherwise arrive in a panicked, last-minute heap at the emergency room door. Now, the insurance companies must take you on, no matter how sick you are. Now, the insurance companies cannot drop you from their lists when you get the very illness you needed the insurance for in the first place.

Now – or soon, at least – those without enough money to buy their own insurance will get help from, yes, the government.

On the whole, all this is a good thing, as Martha Stewart might say. I know I feel happier, or perhaps just less guilty. That’s because the new health care legislation gives me a clearer conscience, though I have done nothing personally to deserve the resulting warm glow. But surely all of us should now in these early days of “Obamacare” be able to sleep better at night than we used to, knowing that we all share the same benefit that most industrialized modern nations decided long ago was a basic human right: reasonable and affordable access to routine medical care.

This connection – this sense of finally all being in the same boat – is what we mean when we talk about the binding ties of nation, citizenship, community and family. Before this legislation, we were painfully divided: some of us were sailing along happily in the Good Ship Health Insurance and others among us were gasping in the water.

Americans are perhaps understandably tired of hearing about the wonderful health care enjoyed by all those lucky (and smug?) Europeans and Canadians. But with relatives in the United Kingdom, I can attest to the peace of mind that universal (and single-payer!) “government” healthcare brings with it. I can only imagine what it would have been like to see my parents, in their final years, struggling not only with the wretched pangs of old age, but also with the anxiety of financing the complex continuing care they needed.

Old age and terminal illness are painful enough without the added excitement of waiting for a complicated array of bills to arrive in the mail. I’m also happy that my 20-something nieces and nephews in England, already battling a very unfriendly economy, don’t have to worry about hitting the jackpot of a “job with health insurance.” They already have it. And they cannot lose it. That particular security soothes both the financial and the emotional cares of their late-middle-aged parents, too.

Howlers and scowlers hate the idea of national government involvement in what they see as a highly personal and private aspect of our individual experience. I, too, sigh and roll my eyes on occasion when I hear local, state or national government telling me to regulate some aspect of my behavior that I regard as my own business. Don’t smoke! Pay a storm water runoff tax for the impermeable bits of your property! Don’t buy that jumbo-sized soft drink!

The nanny state can seem to be everywhere: when I hear that familiar bleating cry, I definitely want to light up, gulp a pint or two of SuperSugarFizz, and then relax for a while on my outsize Monstercrete patio.

But getting everyone a bit closer to the door of the doctor’s office is different. This is serious. Thank you for asking, President Obama and Gov. Romney: I am better off in 2012 than I was in 2008. Now that I know all Americans have a fairer shot at getting relief from physical pain and mental anguish, I feel like a better person, living in a better country. For that I am grateful.

Rosemary Haskell is a professor of English at Elon University.

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Elon University faculty with an interest in sharing their expertise with wider audiences are encouraged to contact Eric Townsend (etownsend4@elon.edu) in the Office of University Communications should they like assistance with prospective newspaper op/ed submissions.

Viewpoints shared by this syndicate are those of the author and not of Elon University.

Eric Townsend,
Staff
10/3/2012 2:21 PM