Mama Might Be Better off Dead: The Failure of Health Care in Urban America / Edition 1

Paperback (Print)
Buy Used
Buy Used from
(Save 40%)
Item is in good condition but packaging may have signs of shelf wear/aging or torn packaging.
Condition: Used – Good details
Used and New from Other Sellers
Used and New from Other Sellers
from $5.85
Usually ships in 1-2 business days
(Save 61%)
Other sellers (Paperback)
  • All (20) from $5.85   
  • New (6) from $8.95   
  • Used (14) from $5.85   


Mama Might Be Better Off Dead is an unsettling, profound look at the human face of health care. Both disturbing and illuminating, it immerses readers in the lives of four generations of a poor, African-American family beset with the devastating illnesses that are all too common in America's inner-cities.

The story takes place in North Lawndale, a neighborhood that lies in the shadows of Chicago's Loop. Although surrounded by some of the city's finest medical facilities, North Lawndale is one of the sickest, most medically underserved communities in the country. Headed by Jackie Banes, who oversees the care of a diabetic grandmother, a husband on kidney dialysis, an ailing father, and three children, the Banes family contends with countless medical crises. From visits to emergency rooms and dialysis units, to trials with home care, to struggles for Medicaid eligibility, Abraham chronicles their access (or lack of access) to medical care.

Told sympathetically but without sentimentality, their story reveals an inadequate health care system that is further undermined by the direct and indirect effects of poverty. When people are poor, they become sick easily. When people are sick, their families quickly become poorer.

Embedded in the family narrative is a lucid analysis of the gaps, inconsistencies, and inequalities the poor face when they seek health care. This book reveals what health care policies crafted in Washington, D. C. or state capitals look like when they hit the street. It shows how Medicaid and Medicare work and don't work, the Catch-22s of hospital financing in the inner city, the racial politics of organ transplants, the failure of childhood immunization programs, the vexed issues of individual responsibility and institutional paternalism. One observer puts it this way: "Show me the poor woman who finds a way to get everything she's entitled to in the system, and I'll show you a woman who could run General Motors."

Abraham deftly weaves these themes together to make a persuasive case for health care reform while unflinchingly presenting the complexities that will make true reform as difficult as it is necessary. Mama Might Be Better Off Dead is a book with the power to change the way health care is understood in America. For those seeking to learn what our current system of health care promises and what it delivers, it offers a place for the debate to begin.

Describes how Medicaid & Medicare works/hosp. financing in the inner city/organ transplants.

Read More Show Less

Editorial Reviews

Walter Bogdanich
A book of unexpected power. What begins as a matter-of-fact account of one black family's struggle to get Medicaid care, builds into an emotional indictment of our incomprehensible, illogical health care bureaucracy.
New York Newsday
Read More Show Less

Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780226001395
  • Publisher: University of Chicago Press
  • Publication date: 11/28/1994
  • Edition description: 1
  • Edition number: 1
  • Pages: 289
  • Sales rank: 193,326
  • Product dimensions: 6.00 (w) x 9.00 (h) x 1.00 (d)

Table of Contents

1: "Where crowded humanity suffers and sickens": The Banes family and their
2: The rigors of kidney dialysis for Robert Banes
3: Gaps in government insurance for Mrs. Jackson
4: Fitful primary care fails Mrs. Jackson
5: Mrs. Jackson's melancholy
6: The inner-city emergency room
7: One hospital's story: How treating the poor is "bad" for business
8: Who's responsible for Tommy Markhams's health?
9: Jackie Banes's "patient"
10: Empty promises: Preventive care for the Banes children
11: Robert Banes plays the transplant game
12: The Banes family and white doctors
13: Life-sustaining technology
14: Amazing grace
Read More Show Less

Customer Reviews

Be the first to write a review
( 0 )
Rating Distribution

5 Star


4 Star


3 Star


2 Star


1 Star


Your Rating:

Your Name: Create a Pen Name or

Barnes & Review Rules

Our reader reviews allow you to share your comments on titles you liked, or didn't, with others. By submitting an online review, you are representing to Barnes & that all information contained in your review is original and accurate in all respects, and that the submission of such content by you and the posting of such content by Barnes & does not and will not violate the rights of any third party. Please follow the rules below to help ensure that your review can be posted.

Reviews by Our Customers Under the Age of 13

We highly value and respect everyone's opinion concerning the titles we offer. However, we cannot allow persons under the age of 13 to have accounts at or to post customer reviews. Please see our Terms of Use for more details.

What to exclude from your review:

Please do not write about reviews, commentary, or information posted on the product page. If you see any errors in the information on the product page, please send us an email.

Reviews should not contain any of the following:

  • - HTML tags, profanity, obscenities, vulgarities, or comments that defame anyone
  • - Time-sensitive information such as tour dates, signings, lectures, etc.
  • - Single-word reviews. Other people will read your review to discover why you liked or didn't like the title. Be descriptive.
  • - Comments focusing on the author or that may ruin the ending for others
  • - Phone numbers, addresses, URLs
  • - Pricing and availability information or alternative ordering information
  • - Advertisements or commercial solicitation


  • - By submitting a review, you grant to Barnes & and its sublicensees the royalty-free, perpetual, irrevocable right and license to use the review in accordance with the Barnes & Terms of Use.
  • - Barnes & reserves the right not to post any review -- particularly those that do not follow the terms and conditions of these Rules. Barnes & also reserves the right to remove any review at any time without notice.
  • - See Terms of Use for other conditions and disclaimers.
Search for Products You'd Like to Recommend

Recommend other products that relate to your review. Just search for them below and share!

Create a Pen Name

Your Pen Name is your unique identity on It will appear on the reviews you write and other website activities. Your Pen Name cannot be edited, changed or deleted once submitted.

Your Pen Name can be any combination of alphanumeric characters (plus - and _), and must be at least two characters long.

Continue Anonymously
Sort by: Showing 1 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted December 11, 2002

    An insightful examination of the desparity in healthcare delivery

    Laurie Abraham, an investigative writer for the "Chicago Reporter," reveals the impact of socioeconomics on the ability to access healthcare benefits in the Unites States. The allocation of healthcare in the United States is based upon who can pay for it, whether through ones own resources or by insurance benefits. Those who cannot pay for health insurance and are without resources of their own to pay for health care are left to rely upon the hotpotch of health care provided through federal and state medicaid programs. Abraham's study of the Banes family chronicles the harships, disappointments, and resignation that the Banes experiences while attempting to access healthcare in their impoverished Chicago neighborhood, North Lawndale. Robert Banes, the father and husband, did not recieve reliable, steady coverage until his kidneys failed. His brother in law, Tommy Markham, could not recieve reliable medical care until AFTER he suffered a debilitating stroke caused by uncontrolled high blood pressure. These are just a few examples of the difficulty the "poor" experienced in trying to access basic healthcare in the late 1980's and throughout the 1990's. Ironically, as Abraham points out, the United States, one of the wealthiest of all industrialized nations, is only one of two industrialized nations that does not provide at least basic healthcare to all citizens. Health care access is contingent upon wealth, not need; a fact that is desturbing, at least.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
Sort by: Showing 1 Customer Reviews

If you find inappropriate content, please report it to Barnes & Noble
Why is this product inappropriate?
Comments (optional)