OP-ED

How I Lost My Fear of Universal Health Care

When I moved to Canada in 2008, I was a die-hard conservative Republican. So when I found out that we were going to be covered by Canada’s Universal Health Care, I was somewhat disgusted. This meant we couldn’t choose our own health coverage, or even opt out if we wanted too. It also meant that abortion was covered by our taxes, something I had always believed was horrible. I believed based on my politics that government mandated health care was a violation of my freedom.

When I got pregnant shortly after moving, I was apprehensive. Would I even be able to have a home birth like I had experienced with my first 2 babies? Universal Health Care meant less choice right? So I would be forced to do whatever the medical system dictated regardless of my feelings, because of the government mandate. I even talked some of having my baby across the border in the US, where I could pay out of pocket for whatever birth I wanted. So imagine my surprise when I discovered that Midwives were not only covered by the Universal health care, they were encouraged! Even for hospital births. In Canada, Midwives and Dr’s were both respected, and often worked together.

I went to my first Midwife appointment and sat in the waiting room looking at the wall of informational pamphlets. I never went to the Dr growing up, we didn’t have health insurance, and my parents preferred a conservative naturopathic doctor anyways. And the doctor I had used for my first 2 births was also a conservative Christian. So I had never seen information on birth control and STDs. One of the pamphlets read “Pregnant Unexpectedly?” so I picked it up, wondering what it would say. The pamphlet talked about adoption, parenthood, or abortion. It went through the basics of what each option would entail and ended by saying that these choices were up to you. I was horrified that they included abortion on the list of options, and fact that the pamphlet was so balanced instead of “pro-life.”

During my appointment that day, the midwife asked her initial round of questions including whether or not I had desired to become pregnant in the first place. Looking back I am not surprised she asked that, I was depressed at the time, (even though I did not list that on my medical chart) and very vocal about my views on birth control (it wasn’t OK, ever.) No wonder she felt like she should ask if I was happy to be having this baby. But I was angry about the whole thing. In my mind, freedom was being violated, my rights were being decided for me by the evils of Universal Health Care.

Fast forward a little past the Canadian births of my third and fourth babies. I had better prenatal care than I had ever had in the States. I came in regularly for appointments to check on my health and my babies’ health throughout my pregnancy, and I never had to worry about how much a test cost or how much the blood draw fee was. I didn’t have to skip my ultrasound because of the expense. With my pregnancies in the States, I had limited my checkups to only a handful to keep costs down. When I went in to get the shot I needed because of my negative blood type, in Canada it was covered. In fact I got the recommended 2 doses instead of the more risky 1 dose because I didn’t have to worry about the expense. I had a wide array of options and flexibility when it came to my birth, and care providers that were more concerned with my health and the health of my baby than how much money they might make based on my birth, or what might impact their reputation best. When health care is universal, Drs are free to recommend and provide the best care for every patient instead of basing their care on what each patient can afford.

I found out that religious rights were still respected. The Catholic hospital in the area did not provide abortions, and they were not required too. I had an amazing medically safe birth, and excellent post-natal care with midwives who had to be trained, certified and approved by the medical system.

I started to feel differently about Universal government mandated and regulated Health care. I realized how many times my family had avoided hospital care because of our lack of coverage. When I mentioned to Canadians that I had been in a car accident as a teen and hadn’t gone into the hospital, they were shocked! Here, you always went to the hospital, just in case. And the back pain I had endured ever since would have been investigated and cared for with whatever X-rays, Physiotherapy or even Surgery that was needed, which would have been at no cost to me. In out particular province, even chiropractic care was provided after a car accident by the provincial care insurance.When I asked for prayers for my little brother who had been burned in an accident, they were all puzzled why the story did not include immediately rushing him to the hospital. When they asked me to clarify and I explained that many people in the States are not insured and they try to put off medical care unless absolutely needed, they literally could not comprehend such a thing.

I started to wonder why I had been so opposed to government mandated Universal Health care. Almost every western country in the world has Universal Insurance of some kind, except the USA. Here in Canada, everyone was covered. If they worked full-time, if they worked part-time, or if they were homeless and lived on the street, they were all entitled to the same level of care if they had a medical need. People actually went in for routine check-ups and caught many of their illnesses early, before they were too advanced to treat. People were free to quit a job they hated, or even start their own business without fear of losing their medical coverage. In fact, the only real complaint I heard about the Universal Health Care from the Canadians themselves, was that sometimes there could be a wait time before a particular medical service could be provided. But even that didn’t seem to be that bad to me, in the States most people had to wait for medical care, or even be denied based on their coverage. Depending on where one lived and how rural the area was, one’s access to care could be limited, and that was regardless of what country one lived in. The only people guaranteed immediate and full service in the USA, were those with the best (and most expensive) health coverage or wads of cash they could blow. In Canada, the wait times were usually short, and applied to everyone regardless of wealth. If you were discontent with the wait time (and had the money to cover it) you could always travel out of the country to someplace where you could demand a particular service for a price. Personally, I never experienced excessive wait times, I was accepted for maternity care within a few days or weeks, I was able to find a family care provider nearby easily and quickly, and when a child needed to be brought in for a health concern I was always able to get an appointment within that week.

The only concern I was left with was the fact that abortion was covered by the Universal Health Care, and I still believed that was wrong. But as I lived there, I began to discover I had been misled in that understanding as well. Abortion wasn’t pushed as the only option by virtue of it being covered. It was just one of the options, same as it was in the USA. In fact, the percentage rates of abortion are far lower in Canada than they are in the USA, where abortion is often not covered by insurance and can be much harder to get. In 2008 Canada had an abortion rate of 15.2 per 1000 women (In other countries with government health care that number is even lower), and the USA had an abortion rate of 20.8 abortions per 1000 women.

And suddenly I could see why that was the case. With Universal coverage, a mother pregnant unexpectedly would still have health care for her pregnancy and birth even if she was unemployed, had to quit her job, or lost her job. If she was informed that she had a special needs baby on the way, she could rest assured knowing in Canada her child’s health care needs would be covered. Whether your child needs therapy, medicines, a caregiver, a wheelchair, or repeated surgeries, it would be covered by the health care system. Here, you never heard of parents joining the army just so their child’s “pre-existing” health care needs could be covered. In fact, when a special needs person becomes an adult in Canada, they are eligible for a personal care assistant covered by the government. We saw far more developmentally or physically disabled persons out and about in Canada, than I ever see here in the USA. They would be getting their groceries at the store, doing their business at the bank, and even working job, all with their personal care assistant alongside them, encouraging them and helping them when they needed it. When my sister came up to visit, she even commented on how visible special needs people were when the lady smiling and waving while clearing tables at the Taco Bell with her caregiver clearly had Downs Syndrome.

I also discovered that the Canadian government looked out for its families in other ways. The country mandates one year of paid maternity leave, meaning a woman having a baby gets an entire year after the birth of her baby to recover and parent her new baby full-time, while still receiving 55% of her salary and her job back at the end of that year. Either parent can use the leave, so some split it, with one parent staying at home for 6 months and the other staying at home for 6 months. I could hardly believe my ears when I first heard it. In America, women routinely had to return to work after 6 weeks leave, many times unpaid. Many American women lost their jobs when becoming pregnant or having a baby. I knew people who had to go back to work 2 weeks after giving birth just to hang onto their job and continue making enough money to pay the bills. Also every child in Canada gets a monthly cash tax benefit. The wealthier families can put theirs into a savings account to pay for college someday (which also costs far less money in Canada by the way), the not so wealthy can use theirs to buy that car seat or even groceries. In the province we lived in, we also received a monthly day care supplement check for every child under school age. I made more money being a stay at home mom in Canada than I do in the States working a part-time close to a minimum wage job. And none of the things I listed here are considered “welfare” they are available to every Canadian regardless of income. For those with lower incomes than we had there are other supports in place as well.

If a woman gets pregnant unexpectedly in America, she has to worry about how she will get her own prenatal care, medical care for her child, whether or not she will be able to keep her job and how she will pay for daycare for her child so she can continue to support her family. In Canada those problems are eliminated or at least reduced. Where do you think a woman is more likely to feel supported in her decision to keep her baby, and therefore reduce abortions?

Since all of these benefits are available to everyone, I never heard Canadians talking about capping their incomes to remain lower income and not lose their government provided health coverage. Older people in Canada don’t have to clean out their assets to qualify for some Medicare or Social Security programs, I knew older people who went in for procedure after procedure, and we never heard about dwindling resources, kids paying for their parents medical expenses, or being forced to use up life insurance or funeral savings in order to get the health care they needed. I heard of inheritances being left even amongst the middle classes. Something I had only heard about in wealthy families in the USA.

And lest you think that the Canada system is draining the government resources, their budget is  very close to balanced every year. They’ve had these programs for decades. Last year Canada’s national debt was 586 billion dollars, the USA has 15.5 trillion dollars in national debt. Canada has about one 10th the population of the US, so even accounting for size, the USA is almost 3 times more indebted. And lest you think that taxes are astronomical, our median income taxes each year were only slightly higher than they had been in the States, and we still got a large chunk of it back each year at tax time.

In the end, I don’t see Universal health care as an evil thing anymore.

Comparing the two systems, which one better values the life of each person?

Which system is truly more family friendly?

Melissa blogs at Permission to Live: Musings of a Young Mom.

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22 replies »

  1. I think this is among the such a lot important information for me. And i am satisfied reading your article. However want to commentary on some basic things, The site style is great, the articles is in point of fact nice : D. Excellent job, cheers

  2. Thanks for a great post!

    During the Klein years in Alberta, I did a fair amount of research re: universal health vs two tier health. What I discovered was that the effectiveness of the first had much to do with strategic planning and access to services. Bureaucracy and waste were the detractors. In the two-tiered system,

    The best outcomes were demonstrated when the insurance companies were not-for-profit. The whole paradigm changes when shareholders expect a return on investment above and beyond improved health care access and services. When healthcare is a commodity to sell to the highest bidder, whoever has the money moves to the front of the line.

    Healthcare professionals often double bill – dipping into the coffers of public health as well as billing private insurance and/or patients. Klein used his position as premier to strike a deal in Calgary that allowed the development of a private clinic (including American interests) to operate with $20 M in government funding…behind closed doors, of course…in advance of the the ‘public’ restructuring of health care there. He called this move “thinking out of the box.” Unfortunately, he was not transparent in his intentions or dealings.

    There are numerous Medical Tourism conferences held each year worldwide. Brokers are hired to attract business. CBC radio interviewed one such broke a few years ago who was recruiting patients from B.C. to Washington state. The result? Extended wait times for patients in Washington.

    A fair and just system would deal with conflicts of interest and self-dealing. Is there a will to set policy and enforce it?

  3. Here’s an interesting observation. I have a brother who practices emergency medicine in New Zealand. His malpractice cost is $1000.00 per year, no fault, settled by objective third party without incentive to hold the individual doctor at-fault. The patient still has the right to sue, cases are looked at objectively, and unless there is gross negligence, the claim is settled fairly and without direct attack on the physician who provided services. We all know in medicine that every drug, procedure, intervention or recommendation falls within statistical probabilities and that the word of the physician is not the word of God. But our legal system has been set up to point blame in every direction except our acceptance of responsibility, probability, fairness and objectivity. This has led not only to escalating cost, but a society that’s quick to blame and feel victimized. In fact, we have perpetuated this attitude so much that we are now trying to blame everyone but ourselves for the healthcare mess that we ourselves have promulgated – yes, every one of us. We now hold our very life (the fact that we were born into this country) as a liability to be taxed instead of a joy to be celebrated as other countries do. What then? Society gets what each of its individuals values the most. We shouldn’t be jealous of Canada, New Zealand, Sweden, Finland or Austria who value fairness, equality, health and empowerment of its people above greed and profit. It should come as no surprise that we as a collective are sinking in quicksand because of our individual mind-set that refuses to scrutinize change inside ourselves first before we quickly pick up the phone to call the lawyers. Since we in America value blame, fear, threat, liable, slander and victimization well, it stands to reason that that’s exactly what we will get. Change our personal values first, see others as equals and as humans, view the entire healthcare construct as an integrated whole not just separated parts of malpractice, health insurance, drug costs, government programs, physician salaries to be dissected ad nauseum….and we just might change for the better. Continue to operate in the paradigm of myopia, fragmentation, disease obsession, blame, disempowerment and fear…well, only God can help us then….And for America, it sure sounds like God’s just taken a long vacation right about now.

  4. As a Canadia citizen I was very encouraged to read your blog on our Health Care System. Canadians are very proud of their system. Yes, we have a few cranky types as well , but like children who fail to appreciate what they have, they complain. You have captured the very essence of what our founder of the health care structure in Canada, Tommy Douglas did for Canada and we are eternally grateful for his belief and mission to bring to all Canadians what we cherish as a right to have universal care for all. You might be interested to know thathis grandson is Keifer Sutherland!
    I am setting up a website shortly, the name is yet to be decided, but I would like to reference your blog. I am currently writing a book, ” Listening To The Patient” and will have a blog as well. You might be interested to know about a forum I’ve joined: The Society For Participatory Medicine, which is where Ii discovered your Blog!
    Elizabeth Rankin BScN

  5. I dont understand how anybody could be annoyed to receive universal healthcare. For example the nhs in britain covers the healthcare for everyone in the country and their taxes go towards funding it. I beleive that the whole world should adopt this idea which could eventually result in a global health service. How could anyone say no to that ? The result of creating this global health service would be that wherever you go, you would receive exactly the same quality of healthcare as you would get in your own country which would include departments such as pediatrics and accident and emergency all over the world.

    Sam Apex
    http://www.apexhsc.co.uk

  6. This is a beautiful, beautiful article. Thank you SO much for writing such an intense, and emotion filled article. I’ve been trying, for years, to explain Canadian Health Care to my friends in the U.S., with little success. I’m going to keep this article and post it frequently on my FB page. I have so many American friends that are suffering illnesses of so many varieties that suffer so much and I KNOW it is unnecessary. If only they could adopt a more proactive system, similar to Canada and other western countries. I loved when Obama brought up the issue of universal health care and I completely loved that it passed. It isn’t what we have, yet, but it’s a very good start! Welcome to Canada ‘Young Mom’, I wish you great happiness and peace in our great country!

  7. Sir Winston Churchill
    Truth is incontrovertible, malice may attack it and ignorance may deride it, but, in the end, there it is.

  8. The Fraser Institute is the Canadian equivalent of… oh Cato or some other American rightwing propaganda mill that passes itself off a a think tank. Really.

  9. Melissa, you sound like an active, engaged and educated patient. Can’t imagine a better medical partner, no matter the country, to help your physician give you the best care possible. Something to Consider in the health care debate: Canadians are enduring the longest wait times for surgery in 18 years according to the Fraser Institute. “Canadians are being forced to wait almost 4 ½ months, on average, to receive surgical care, prolonging the pain and suffering patients and their families are forced to endure,” said Mark Rovere, co-author of the report. See more about the significance of freedom in health care and patient empowerment at http://www.doctorsandpatients.org.

  10. Thank you Jack, for your supporting words. From: Jose A. Jarimba, Author of “The Human Mold prevention from origin”. This is the book that you should read to help us change our present Health system for a fair one, where all the people get educated about their physical structure and body.

  11. The intensity is mounting, the complaints are getting louder, the blame, wishes, desires and fears are all bubbling to the surface. But, are we ready to actually take this country in our own hands and do what needs to be done? We love to make the answers extremely complex, when in fact they are extremely simple. We operate from the wrong paradigm in medicine. We believe that health is a liability and has to be insured. And the rest is history. What if we believed that health is a gift – no matter the disease label? What if we practiced health and corrected our diseases, slowly, surely, one day at a time? What if we all dropped for-profit coverage, Medicare, Medicaid and collapsed a corrupt system that’s actually killing people through their intense amount of fear? What if we all did this together, learned a new paradigm together, and lived for today instead of the fear of a future that’s getting worse by clinging to this illusion of health?? What if we all joined a Health Conscious Movement, one that’s for the people, by the people and lived to re-build something new for our kids; a brighter future we can be proud?? Oh, I forgot. This is America!!

  12. Boy, I was kind of behind the times in one respect. I thought that Health Beat was no longer being updated, but thanks to your referral I see a number of great posts. Health Beat is great!

    I was probably making too much of the ‘crumbling schools’ reference, which
    I bristle at, perhaps needlessly.

    I am not in the education field, but with my own eyes in Minneapolis I see school districts with big problems AND very nice buildings.

    Of course the problems derive from family breakdown and unemployment and the hideous gangsta culture. Even the cleanest and newest school buildings are no match for these destructive trends.

    Again as an educational amateur, I think that one of the toughest barriers for poor children is the self-destructuve children around them. Better buildings and higher teacher salaries cannot cure this. (I had two sons who went to very decent public schools, and they were almost pulled under into drug addiction by very rotten companions and their own weaknesses and mine..)

    What I am trying to say is that if poor children in Minnesota are failing, it is not from lack of money or even from bigotry,

    Now back to Health Beat!

  13. Bob–

    First, thank you for the kind words.

    But I must disagree.

    The many very good public schools in the northwest and upper-middle teach a relatively small number of children going to public schools in the U.S.

    When I referred to our crumbling schools, I wasn’t just writing about the schools in inner cities where the majority of kids are black or hispanic.

    I was referring to the many nearlly all-white schools in poor rural areas. (Southern states, rural areas in the northeast, and
    poorer parts of the midwest and West..)

    Roughly 40% of the children in this country who are living below the federal poverty level are white. They are getting a very poor education– and often go to to bed hungry.

    The press doesn’t report on rural poverty because most jouranlists live in cities on the East Coast or the West Coast–so they don’t see
    many poor whites. They assume that “the poor” are back or Hispanic.

    Also, in this country, we don’t like to talk about “class.” We are willing to
    acknowledge that racism exists, but we don’t like to admit that in the U.S.
    “class” (how much you earn) determines your future–even if you are white.

    . In this country, “upward mobility” has all but disappeared. If you are born poor, lower-middle-class or middle-class, your chances of breaking out of that class are very slim.

    In Europe, there is now more “upward mobility” than in the U.S.– because free education is better there, the social safety net is wider, and taxes are more progressive.

    The New York Times did an excellent multi-part story on this a number of years ago. Try Googling “upward mobility” and “New York Times” and “class.” If you can’t find it, let me know, and I’ll dig up the reference.

    But, in this country, poverty — and poor education — is multi-racial, including white kids..

    That said, the number of African Americans, Latinos and other minorities in this country gettimg a poor education greatly outnumber the lucky kids who live in the Northwest and Upper Middle West.

    L.A., New York City, Miama, Detroit, Newark. .. . I could go on and on.
    There are far more kids in these cities than in the areas you mention.

    I am keenly aware of what is happening to minorities because my daughter teaches in a public school in NYC , and because I grew up going to a
    majority/minority public junior high in a city in upstate New York . My high school was half-minority, half white, and was a “technical high school”–most students studied “trades” (auto repair, hair-cutting, etc.) rather than “academics” (English, history, science etc.)

    Finally, there are also many poor whites in the areas you mention. See Pat S’s recent post on “Fly-over country.” He is writing about a poor rural area in Minnesota which he descibes as having been identified as a leading white ghetto in the U.S.

    Again, thanks for your comment. I’m always glad to hear from you, even if we disagree

  14. Maggie, you are dead right on many things, but you have slipped into a liberal cliche in your comment on schools.

    One does not need to go to France or Canada to see modern, clean school buildings for all. You can just go to Minnesota, North Dakota, Iowa, Wisconsin, and upper Michigan. I have traveled these areas and I defy you to find a ‘crumbling school’ in these states. I will almost bet you that you cannot find a school building over 12 years old.

    The rather sobering answer is that white Americans take fairly good care of each other. (this is true for the elderly also.) Our social systems for whites are no model of effiency or equality, but in sheer physical benefits we are not far behind white Canada or white France or white Germany.

    Of course, white Canada is all of Canada, minus the generally well-educated immigrants of Toronto. Whereas America has another 40 million people to deal with once the whites are set aside.

    If the Medicaid expansion survives, we will have made another big federal step towards equality. I pray that it does survive.

    Nonetheless, American social policy must be looked at through a racial filter.

  15. “The fix for our healthcare crisis is a single payer system (Medicare for all) like the rest of the developed world has.”

    No. The rest of the developed world doesn’t have single payer. Germany, with the oldest universal health system, doesn’t have it. Japan doesn’t, Switzerland doesn’t and the Netherlands doesn’t. Single payer is the means to an end, universal coverage. It isn’t an end in itself.

  16. “Give me Liberty, or Give me Death!” – Patrick Henry

    What a brilliant ruling by the United States Supreme Court on the affordable health care act (Obamacare). Stunningly brilliant in my humble opinion. I could not have ask for a better ruling on a potentially catastrophic healthcare act than We The People Of The United States received from our Supreme Court.

    If the court had upheld the constitutionality of the individual mandate under the commerce clause it would have meant the catastrophic loss of the most precious thing we own. Our individual liberty. Thank you! Thank you! Thank you! Supreme Court.

    There is no mandate to buy private for-profit health insurance. There is only a nominal tax on income eligible individuals who don’t have health insurance. This is a HUGE! difference. And I suspect that tax may be subject to constitutional challenge as it ripens.

    This is a critically important distinction. Because under the commerce clause individuals would have been compelled to support the most costly, dangerous, unethical, morally repugnant, and defective type of health insurance you can have. For-profit health insurance, and the for-profit proxies called private non-profits and co-ops.

    Equally impressive in the courts ruling was the majorities willingness to throw out the whole law if the court could not find a way to sever the individual mandate under the commerce clause from the rest of the act. Bravo! Supreme Court.

    Thanks to the Supreme Court we now have an opportunity to fix our healthcare crisis the right way. Without the obscene delusion that Washington can get away with forcing Americans to buy a costly, dangerous and highly defective private product (for-profit health insurance).

    During the passage of ACA/Obamacare some politicians said that the ACA was better than nothing. But the truth was that until the Supreme Court fixed it the ACA/Obamacare was worse than nothing at all. It would have meant the catastrophic loss of your precious liberty for the false promise and illusion of healthcare security under the deadly and costly for-profit healthcare system that dominates American healthcare.

    As everyone knows now. The fix for our healthcare crisis is a single payer system (Medicare for all) like the rest of the developed world has. Or a robust Public Option choice available to everyone on day one that can quickly lead to a single payer system.

    We still have a healthcare crisis in America. With hundreds of thousands dieing needlessly every year in America. And a for-profit medical industrial complex that threatens the security and health of the entire world. The ACA/Obamacare will not fix that.

    The for-profit medical industrial complex has already attacked the world with H1N1 killing thousands, and injuring millions. And more attacks are planned for profit, and to feed their greed.

    To all of you who have fought so hard to do the kind and right thing for your fellow human beings at a time of our greatest needs I applaud you. Be proud of your-self.

    God Bless You my fellow human beings. I’m proud to be one of you. You did good.

    See you on the battle field.

    Sincerely

    jacksmith – WorkingClass 🙂

  17. Probably the only way to really understand another country is to live there.
    Everything you say squares witih what a friend who has lived in Canada for
    many years tells me. Another friend, who lived in France for a number of years, told similar stories about care there. My step-son and his wife had
    their first baby in Germany. Great, patient-centered care in a hospital that
    didn’t look like a resort, but provided excellent care.

    My friend who lived in France said that there health care system is so good because “The French feel that nothing is too good for another Frenchman.”

    Unfortunately, Americans do not feel that way about each other.

    Ths helps explain America’s poor being caught in a cycle of poverty. We don’t put the money into public education that would help many people
    break out of the cycle. Our classrooms are too crowded, particularly in schools located in low-income areas. A high student-teacher ratio means that students who learn at different rates don’t get the attention they need.
    When it comes to special ed, children with emotional problems (anxiety, rage,
    ADD) are thrown into special ed classes with children who are mentally retarded. The angry children bully the retarded children.

    Often,the schools themsleves are old, dirty and crumbling.
    Windows that don’t open haven’t been washed in years.
    Even in NYC, (where school lasts until the end of June) many classrooms
    don’t have air-conditioning.
    Imagine trying to learn (or teach) in a stifling 94 degree classroom packed with
    26 sweaty bodies?

    Visit public schools in Canada, or France, and you will see the difference.

  18. Thank you for writing and sharing this. I hope people who feel as you did when you moved to Canada will read it with an open mind.

  19. Even from my strict libertarian approach I do not see a government run public OPTION as terribly anti-freedom, or at least it’s on par with a government run postal monopoly. The problem I have is that the US is worse than every other country at socialial welfare. We have not got a single major service to a sustainable level that doesn’t cause dependence and cyclical poverty or program insolvency in the long run.

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