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Review: ‘Cover Me’ by Sonya Huber

Review: ‘Cover Me’ by Sonya Huber post image

Title: Cover Me: A Health Insurance Memoir
Author: Sonya Huber
Genre: Memoir
Year: 2010
Acquired: From the author for review
Rating: ★★★☆☆

One Sentence Summary: Cover Me is one woman’s story of navigating the American medical system without the benefit of health insurance.

One Sentence Review: Huber’s memoir is heavy on story but light on facts, making it a less informative book than I was hoping for.

Why I Read It: As someone just starting to take control of my health insurance, I was curious what lessons Cover Me might offer.

Long Review: Sonya Huber grew up middle class, lucky enough to have health insurance for things like braces and medication and stitches. When she graduated from college she didn’t have insurance, but assumed it would just be a temporary problem. After 13 years and 23 different jobs, Huber is a married mother who still was not insured. Cover Me is a look at Huber’s experience navigating the complicated territory of health-care options — or lack-there-of — for the the uninsured in the United States.

I decided to read Cover Me because it seemed like it would be a a narrative way to learn more about the health-care industry, a topic I’m curious about given the massive changes to national health-care system. However, Huber’s memoir isn’t one that I’d suggest reading for facts — it’s entertainment factor was relatively high, but the information level was pretty low because of a decided lack of detail during the moments when information would have been helpful.

I think I can illustrate this with two different excerpts. This first one comes from the opening chapter of the book, a narrative passage when Huber is setting up her conflicts over health-care:

In the co-op on that fevered and shivery day in early 2005, I locked eyes with an Odwalla C-Monster Fruit Smoothie with 1,000 percent the recommended daily allowance of vitamin C. I’m pretty sure you have seen them: about four bucks for four mouthfuls for superhealthy puree (with profits heading straight to its parent company, Coca-Cola). Anyone who shells out cash for that scan has only herself to blame.

The plastic bottle of juice stood with its cousins, shoulder to shoulder, all colors of a tropical Gauguin painting of Tahiti, in a low cooler near a tall shelf of ground yarrow root and feverfew. … In a magazine rack at the front of the co-op, near the cash register, my safe and successful alter ego cavorted in ads for Green Investment and ecotourism on the pages of the Utne Reader.

I love the level of detail in that passage. And when Huber is telling stories and focusing on the personal, her narrative has the depth of detail that makes it come alive.

Unfortunately, when Huber has moments to give that same level of detail to aspects of navigating the health-care ecosystem, the narrative resorts to generalities. For example, this section, where Huber talks about applying for aid after her son was born:

Each dot matrix income verification form asked me how much money I earned in the previous weeks. I had to be careful. If I earned too much, I would lose benefits. The real threat was the large gray area: above poverty level, but far below enough money to buy the cheapest health insurance. I shuffled numbers and jobs to calculate a passage between those narrow rocks toward safety. When I summon moments from my son’s first year, the chest-clench and heart-stop feelings involve paperwork — forms and blank lines.

That passage is just less dynamic, and not just because it’s about filling out paperwork. I think there are a lot of ways to bring detail to a passage like that, to really show the frustration and the pointlessness and the anxiety, that Huber doesn’t capitalize on because it lacks specific detail.

What it came down to for me, then, is that I got a very clear picture of Huber’s frenetic experience of 13 years of health insurance anxiety without ever getting a good sense of what it actually means to be in that situation. What does the paperwork look like? How do you find information? What sorts of resources are actually available? Huber is obviously well-versed in this information — a number of the jobs she held during this time were related to community organizing for health-care — but doesn’t spend much time writing about it in Cover Me.

I like my memoirs on the informative side, and this one just didn’t do that for me. If you’re less neurotic than I am about the information side of narrative nonfiction, there are stories to enjoy in this memoir. But if you want a book that can give you some background to current health-care issues, I’d suggest looking elsewhere.

Other Reviews:

If you have reviewed this book, please leave a link to the review in the comments and I will add your review to the main post. All I ask is for you to do the same to mine — thanks!

Comments on this entry are closed.

  • Lyndsey March 2, 2011, 7:49 am

    I can see how you would find it frustrating having picked it up looking for practical advice – however, as a story, you make it sound great! As a non-American, I do find the debate about healthcare so interesting – it seems so polarised, but when you hear about it in the news, you never get a sense of these stories – its always the big numbers about cost and people not covered. So I imagine it would be very revealing to get a sense of the human side too. Why was it that she had so many jobs? Was it bad luck or choice or the economy?

    • Kim March 4, 2011, 6:14 pm

      Lyndsey: As a story, I enjoyed most of the memoir. If I remember correctly, she had so many jobs for a combo of reasons — it was tough to find a job, and many of the ones she did have did not have benefits, so she seemed to jump. However, she did get a couple jobs in the middle that actually had benefits, but ended up quitting for other reasons — stress, family, work environment. That was actually one thing that frustrated me; for someone who was so focused on health care benefits, she didn’t seem to hold on to them when she had them, or be willing to put up with annoyances to keep them.

  • Care March 2, 2011, 10:00 am

    This doesn’t look like a good fit for me.

    • Kim March 4, 2011, 6:14 pm

      Care: No, probably not. It wasn’t my favorite memoir of all time 🙂

  • Ash March 2, 2011, 10:54 am

    I think I would be disappointed in this book for the same reason. I’m not always concerned about the information, but I would definitely be interested in this book for more info on health care.

    • Kim March 4, 2011, 6:15 pm

      Ash: You know, I didn’t need a ton of information — more just specifics. The sections on actual health care policy were so general they just weren’t that interesting.

  • bermudaonion (Kathy) March 2, 2011, 12:37 pm

    Being without insurance must be a nightmare – too bad she didn’t make the book more informative.

    • Kim March 4, 2011, 6:15 pm

      bermudaonion: Yes, I’m sure that it is. I got lucky and got a job right out of school with good benefits. It’s huge.

  • Savvy Working Gal March 2, 2011, 9:32 pm

    Too bad we could really use a book that provides valuable info about navigating the health care process.

    A couple of weeks ago, a friend was admitted to the hospital at 2:30 a.m. due to a life threatening health condition. His insurance company has already denied the entire claim stating his hospital stay was not pre-authorized. Hello! He was admitted from the emergency room because he was having trouble breathing. What more do they need.

    A co-worker experienced a similar situation after her husband had surgery last year. While on the operating table his surgeon discovered he needed a different type of surgery than what was initially thought. His entire claim was denied because he had been pre-authorized for the wrong surgery. It took almost a year to get the claims straightened out and paid.

    My co-worker began rattling off all sorts of tips to give to my friend. I thought this would make a great blog post, but didn’t think I had enough first hand experience to do it justice.

    On a side note I am reading Matt Taibbi’s book Griftopia. He covers what is wrong with our health care system and why Obama’s health care reform isn’t going to fix the problem. It is the most informative piece I’ve ever read on the subject.

    • Kim March 4, 2011, 6:17 pm

      Saavy Working Girl: I agree. And wow, what frustrating stories! It’s aggravating that something that should be simple — being treated when sick — can turn into such a nightmare. I’m going to look for Griftopia because it sounds like it might fit some of what I was looking for in this book a bit better.