When blogger Melissa moved to Canada in 2008, she identified as a conservative, Republican evangelical Christian. Part of that identity included a deep mistrust of Canada's universal healthcare system. Before the move, she was terrified that she was going to place that would limit her medical choices, tell her what to do with her body, and push abortions (paid for with her money) on any woman who was unsure of what to do about an unwanted pregnancy. She was afraid of losing her freedom. She was afraid of losing her religious liberty.
But that's not what she found in Canada.
Instead, Melissa slowly came to realize that the Canadian system was actually more family friendly than the American one. In Canada, there is significantly less demand for abortion. In Canada, she says, it's easier to be a stay at home parent, and it's easier to ensure the health of your children. She also found that abortion wasn't pushed (merely offered as one of many options) and that Catholic hospitals weren't forced to offer abortions if they didn't want to. Meanwhile, Canada does a better job than we do at balancing their national budget and has far, far, far less national debt.
I started to wonder why I had been so opposed to government mandated Universal Health care. Here in Canada ... 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. ... 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 ... Personally, I never experienced excessive wait times
This story is hitting particularly close to home for me, right now, as I have started to receive bills in the mail for medical costs incurred by my recent miscarriage. The anesthesia for my abortion, alone, ran more than $1500. I have high-deductible insurance (which brought the cost down to about $650) and a health savings account (which allowed me to cover the rest). I'm not in trouble. But I am very, very aware of how lucky and privileged I am in this.
If it weren't for the fact that I'm married to an engineer, I wouldn't have health insurance now. In fact, I probably wouldn't be writing for BoingBoing, because I would never have been able to take the risk of freelancing and leaving any job (no matter how poorly paid or odious) that offered me health insurance. And if I had had the misfortune to have a miscarriage at 7 weeks without the health coverage I have now, I would have incurred medical bills that could have put me in debt for years. Either that, or I would have had to make choices about my miscarriage that would have made the experience significantly worse on my physical health and mental well-being.
I've been successful in my career. But that's not enough. Whatever I've done as a "self-made" lady, I don't deserve to be able to make the right health choices for myself without fear of bankruptcy. Or, rather, I don't deserve it anymore than everyone deserves it. Healthcare without fear shouldn't be something you have to earn by being exceptional. Nothing I've done personally, makes me more special and deserving of being able to take care of my body. And that's the problem with the US health system. It takes basic necessities and treats them as privileges.
Maggie Koerth-Baker is the science editor at BoingBoing.net. She writes a monthly column for The New York Times Magazine and is the author of Before the Lights Go Out, a book about electricity, infrastructure, and the future of energy. You can find Maggie on Twitter and Facebook.