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Novelists sound off on what ails our health-care debate

(Courtesy of HarperCollins Publishers) (HarperCollins Publishers)

As the federal government grinds to a close today over the health-care debate, I wish every member of Congress would read Lionel Shriver’s scathing story about the cruelty of American health insurance. “So Much for That” is “The Jungle” of our age.

Today I reached out to Shriver and two other novelists who have thought deeply about the health-care crisis in this country. They’re extremely disturbed about this latest turn of events.

“I may have preferred a single-payer system — Medicare writ large — to the patchwork of private insurance and public subsidy in the Affordable Care Act,” Shriver told me this morning. “But that legislation was passed by the majority of the American people’s representatives, and this self-destructive effort to derail the bill is anti-democratic. Congress cannot function if it spends most of its time trying to un-pass the few laws it’s managed to approve. And given how many features of Obamacare are bound to tangibly benefit the electorate, what Republicans really seem to fear isn’t that the bill will be a catastrophe, but that it will succeed.”

Jonathan Evison, author of “The Revised Fundamentals of Caregiving,” sounds even more disgusted with the political situation.

“This shutdown offers further evidence of what we already know: that there is a disturbing compassion deficit among wealthy sectors of the Republican party,” he told me. “They ought to be ashamed of themselves, but seeing as they have no shame, nobody is holding their breath.”

Jodi Picoult knows the complexities of our health-care system as a mother and a novelist. “My son grew up needing chronic surgeries,” she told me this afternoon. “Dealing with the insurance company was at best painful and at worst excruciating. Once, we were ‘accidentally’ dropped by our insurer, only to be told we could not be reinsured because of my son’s ‘preexisting condition’ — which was only preexisting because of their own error. It was this experience that led me to write ‘My Sister’s Keeper’ — to show what it’s really like to walk in the shoes of a parent who has to deal with a child who has a chronic illness in a country that doesn’t offer universal health-care resources.”

(Courtesy of Atria Books) (Atria Books)

“My research with families struggling to get insurance coverage for their gravely ill children supports the truth that, for many in this country, securing adequate health-care often means choosing between paying that premium or paying for living expenses. Obamacare is — for many of these parents — a ray of hope; a promise that they can give their children the services and support needed. It’s a tragedy to see that the Republican party, with its blinders on, is gleefully willing to ignore those young, ill constituents who most acutely need their support.”


Ron Charles is the editor of The Washington Post's Book World. For a dozen years, he enjoyed teaching American literature and critical theory in the Midwest, but finally switched to journalism when he realized that if he graded one more paper, he'd go crazy.



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