Those darn Canadians!

by christy on August 13, 2008

So last Friday we went out with my friend Michelle who I haven’t seen in 12 years, not since we took a missions trip to Fiji as teenagers. We also met her husband, Joel Auge, who’s touring the US and Canada and doing pretty well for himself as a musician! We found a cool Mexican place in Hell’s Kitchen that served the best virgin pina coladas I’ve found so far! We had a great time, and it was so cool to see Michelle after all these years and be so comfortable, hanging out as married peeps.

Now, Michelle and Joel are Canadian, and eventually in discussing the baby and our future plans, somehow we made it to the topic of healthcare. They said they’d heard it’s something like $10K to have a baby here, or was for some of their friends (perhaps C-Section, since doctors get it over quickly and get paid more – I refuse to have one unless it’s a life and death situation for myself or the baby). Honestly we hadn’t thought about the costs of actually having the baby, we’ve been more involved with moving costs (which we’re putting off until October 1) and how much it’s going to cost to buy all the baby stuff.

But we do know it’s going to cost us. I racked up probably at least $20K in medical bills (thank God for work insurance, and particularly COBRA) for my three stints in the hospital and innumerable tests done last December-April. And I laughed when I read an article recently that the average waiting time in the ER is 30 minutes, which some people think is a lot. Um, my first stay we waiting 4 hours before going into the ER, and spent another 6 or so waiting in there, listening to drug dealers and old men getting catheters in beds next to us, dragging my double-sized, incredibly painful foot to the restroom to pee every 20 minutes. The second time it was a 6 hour wait (this time I was vomiting every 15 minutes in the waiting room restroom), and another 6 hours waiting for my room. And the third we gave up, took an ambulance to bypass the waiting room for a nice little $300+ chauffer fee, waited in the ER 6-7 hours, and then was taken up outside my room which had yet to be cleaned, to wait in the hall on a gurney for 2 hours (at which point my friend Kelsye called from Nashville, where she was touring through the sparkly city, wondering at the sites, and we both laughed because, in contrast, I was lying on a gurney in pain in the hospital!)

But I digress, as usual.

So we started talking about their healthcare, and learned a few things.

Canadians get 12 months maternity/paternity leave paid at 55% of what they would normally make. Their employers also must, by law, hold their position for them until they return. The time can be divided up between the mother and father – eg. they can each take 6 months, one can take 3 months and the other 9, etc. And if the one decides not to continue working at the end, it doesn’t matter, they’ll still get paid. In fact, Michelle quit her job to be Joel’s tour manager a few months ago and learned she can still get paid 55% her previous salary. In addition, the government basically pays families when they have more children. Correct me if I’m wrong, Michelle (if you’re reading this), but they have friends that have a few kids and get at least $1000 (I want to say $1600, but I may be overshooting) a month just to help care for their children!

Universal healthcare is often sneared at by most conservatives (and I love you, conservative parents and in-laws!!!) because of perceptions of it. Granted, it does take longer to get an appointment to see a doctor, sometimes 6 weeks. Though in the article mentioned above (and unfortunately I’m not finding it again, though type in “ER waiting times longer” and you’ll find many others), the U.S. doctor commenting on ER wait times suggested that part of the problem is patients can’t get in to see their primary care physician when they first get sick, leading them to the ER, and he himself had to often wait as long as 6 weeks to get in to see his! Living in New York, I sympathize, though my OB/GYN almost always has a slot for me, perhaps due to the nature of his job and, I’m hoping, he only takes on so many pregnant patients at once. My primary care doctor, on the other hand, can take a few weeks if it’s not an emergency. Joel and Michelle mentioned that often people on the border of Canada will go to US doctors, after buying cheap tourist insurance (available at pretty much any store in town; in Sicko I believe it was a Sears, since Canadians can’t afford to get sick in the US) to visit, and US doctors love them, because they know their government is good for it!

People here are worried that taxes will go way up if we instate universal healthcare. Um, we pay some 25-30% in taxes (I believe – remember I’ve got pregnancy brain so I’m not intentionally trying to throw off numbers, but I don’t think I am, when you calculate FICA, Social Security, property taxes, sales taxes, etc.), and so do Canadians. Joel also co-owns an internet company outside of his life as a musician. He and his co-owner pay about $160 a month for any incidentals their 5 employees (including themselves and Michelle) incur for medical expenses. He was saying that if he lived in the US, it would be pretty much impossible to give healthcare to their employees.

So, they get paid to take a break to have a baby. They get paid monthly to raise children. They don’t pay for their employees to have health care in general, and pay minimally on additional medical bills. But they do have to sometimes wait longer to see a doctor. Still, I think I’m ready to trade.

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