A Precious health care bill

Precious

Starring Gabby Sidibe, Mo’Nique, Paula Patton, Mariah Carey
Directed by Lee Daniels

This is momentous! As of this writing, the U.S. House of Representatives has just passed — by a thin margin — a national health care bill. Don’t you feel healthier?

Well, before that euphoria sets in, you might need some aspirin just to read the bill, as it is nearly 2,000 pages and about as straightforward as comprehending the contraindications on a prescription drug label. Because of this pain and suffering, I’ll bet most are going to rely on someone else to interpret the bill for them — not their doctor, but a more trusted individual or entity like a radio talk show host, or a blogger, or a pundit, or some staffer for an elected official.

But I have a better way. You don’t need to endure all this pain and suffering. All you have to do is endure a less than two-hour film called Precious. And when I say “endure” I mean a film about a young, black, obese, single girl who is a mother of a Down Syndrome child and another on the way (both the product of rape by her absent father), who struggles to make her way in the world with an abusive mother and insulting classmates. Gee, who wouldn’t want to see that? Doesn’t that sound more entertaining than reading 2,000 pages of legislation?

But if you see Precious — and you should, as it is intense and stylized, well-acted and emotionally powerful — you will get the gist of the health care legislation, or at least its major aspects, to wit:

? Abortion: Precious, the name of the young woman in the film, never even considers aborting the children by her father. As such, she symbolizes the fact that the House-passed health care bill explicitly precludes any federal funding for abortions.

? Public Option: Precious and her mother rely on our nation’s social safety net — welfare, food stamps, public education, social services, etc. They exemplify government assistance programs. There is also a devastatingly painful scene where Precious tumbles down a flight of stairs with her infant child in her arms. That helps you understand the House-passed health care bill, as Precious and her family are the very people that the bill has in mind for “public option.”

? Homosexuality: Precious is able to take advantage of a special schooling opportunity where her intelligence — which has been stifled and repressed — is encouraged to flourish. While her teacher at this school takes no guff from Precious and her classmates, she is also caring and understanding of Precious’ situation and genuinely tries to help. Oh, and her teacher is also a lesbian and in a stable relationship with her significant other. And, lo and behold, there is a provision in the House-passed health care bill that will make health care benefits tax-exempt for homosexual couples, just as they are now for heterosexual couples.

? Food Labeling: Precious has issues with her weight. She is picked on by her peers, her mother and society for being overweight. It also causes issues for her child and the one on the way. How can she deal with this? The House-passed health care bill is just what the doctor ordered. It contains a provision requiring snack food vending machines to post “a clear and conspicuous statement disclosing the number of calories contained” in each item, such as candy bars and soft drinks. And restaurants would have to provide — in a “clear and conspicuous manner” a calorie count for each item on the menu. Precious, help is on the way!

? Obesity: As was mentioned, Precious has an ample frame. But the film does not judge her — it makes us sympathize with her and see her as the special person that she is. And that’s just what went on with this health care bill. The National Association to Advance Fat Acceptance and the Council on Size and Weight Discrimination both lobbied to make sure that the bill did not target overweight people, or make them carry an extra burden of the costs, or allow insurers to consider obesity a “pre-existing condition.” See, Precious is being accepted and understood, after all.

? Child Development: Precious has a young child with Down Syndrome (and another on the way). The child clearly needs special help, but Precious is busy with school and caring for her abusive mother (who, also — shockingly — ends up caring for Precious’ developmentally disabled child). The House-passed health care bill has provisions that would help here as well by requiring that health insurers provide coverage of outpatient treatment of a minor child’s congenital or developmental disorder or disease.

? Parental Coaching: Precious lives with her mom, who has her hands full with throwing things like televisions sets at Precious, pushing her down the stairs, viciously berating and demeaning her, forcing her to fix her meals while she is ensconced on the couch absorbed in her favorite TV show, and otherwise infringing on Precious’ homework study time. But that is about to be fixed with the House-passed health care bill, which has a provision whereby social workers could teach parents the skills needed to “interact with their children to enhance age-appropriate development.” If anyone needs such coaching, it’s Precious’ mom!

? Home Visitation: Precious has a tough time juggling school, taking care of her mom and her Down Syndrome child, and managing her pregnancy. A perfect example to showcase a provision in the House-passed bill that provides grants to states for “home visitation,” whereby nurses and social workers can counsel pregnant women and new mothers in the homes of low-income families — like Precious.’ And, they could see what a nurturing home it is!

? Vituperativeness: Precious’ mom is a nice example of the tone and tenor of the health care debate. Her volatile mental condition — although explainable (but not excused) toward the end of the film in a tearful and poignant scene where the mother pours her heart out to a social worker — is nevertheless a serious condition in need of care and treatment. Her behavior toward Precious, her situation and essentially, the world around her is illustrative of the whole health care debate. Maybe the House-passed health care bill’s provisions for “mental health and substance use disorder services, including behavioral health treatments” might be just prescription for what ails us.

There, I just saved you from having to read 2,000 words of legislative text. Now you are inoculated with the information you need to converse with your friends and neighbors on the House-passed health care bill. Let the debates begin again!

Doug Young is The Statesman’s award-winning film critic. He also works for Sen. Mark Udall as an environmental policy adviser.