Thursday, December 10, 2009

Traveling and learning about healthcare

Travel is a great way to understand better how others think. I am on my way to Paris and Amsterdam right now...writing on the plane, one of my favorite spots for this exercise, even in the midst of turbulence we are currently encountering. Knowing how others think and what they believe is a great way to understand the limitations and challenges of one's own cultural make up. As I keep intimating, law and culture are inextricably linked.

So on the way to the airport, my cab driver volunteered a lecture on what ails American politics. He called himself a libertarian, and believed America had lost its values. Although he was not a fundamentalist, he believed some faith was important in one's life to steer the course. He also believed that government had gotten too big. He was not in favor of current health care reform even though he had not had health care for years he said, "can't afford it." "Then doesn't the current health reform make sense?" I asked. He did not think so. He was afraid he would be covered but that the government would then be able to decide every aspect of his health needs, and he would have to either wait for the kind of care he needs or have to go to Alaska to get the right doctor because the government would want to make sure health care was equally distributed throughout the US.

I wasn't really sure what he was getting at. It appeared to me that either he was scared government would be able to take over health care entirely because it would be the cheapest option (and then why wouldn't everyone switch if it was the cheapest); but then answered him with his own argument, "because it is not the most effective option as you claimed."

At the same time he had solutions of his own, namely 7 percent of our income should go to health care and save us the hassle of all these choices. But good local healthcare should be provided and the insurance companies would still be able to survive because we would need catastrophic coverage, a serious illness for which extra coverage would be required. I asked if he did not think this sounded eerily like the current government option? He didn't think so.

For my part, I told him that I really needed government healthcare when I got to the U.S. as a single parent of two, studying and raising my kids on $12K a year for a number of years. The kids were young and didn't need much, but they did need healthcare. Having just arrived from Canada, it was the most foreign thing for me to contemplate having to pay for health insurance. What was more of a shock was the cost of health care, in those conditions it was completely unaffordable. $500 a month for family healthcare, was the average income for an entire year for families in other parts of the world. I could not imagine how this made sense when all each of us needed was a check up once a year... of course with young children you cannot take a chance. They catch everything being exposed to other children all day long.

I recall talking to someone randomly at microcenter about this topic back in those early days of my arrival. I could not understand the great vehemance with which that other average American approached the idea of universal healthcare, as a government takeover. As a Canadian, I had become accustomed to some sense of governmental care as a normal part of adulthood. But in the U.S. I was quickly learning, self-sufficiency in rhetoric, culture and law was up and coming. Unbridled and unleashed ambition, entrepreneurship, creativity and innovation was more than encouraged, it was fed through cultural nutrition. As such, challenges were taken with responsibilities by Americans. With the risk of failure, or 'no healthcare' came the possibility of great reward and more choice and self-sufficiency. This was a fairly extreme stance for Canadians, who tend to live more balanced lives. Although interested in the upside, most work and go to college closer to home, eat well, live well, worry less, and of course, they all have health care.

Interesting...I thought, on the bright side, clearly health care is now a work in progress here after decades. There is no getting around thinking about the options! Paradoxically, despite his lament my cab driver was a living tribute to the fact America has not lost all its values. Through the entire cab ride, he attacked and pontificated about the policies of his government. At the very least, participation, free speech and thought were alive and well!

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