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An American Girl in Canada

September 19, 2009

An American Girl in Canada

900012193_4de6e8d2d4 I got pregnant four months after I moved to Canada.

Somehow, through all the rigamarole of applying for permanent residency and applying for a work permit and tearful phone calls from relatives who were convinced I’d lost my mind and gone to the North Pole (Students in the United States are NOT taught as much geography as Canadian children are – the entirety of Canada is left as ‘our friendly neighbor to the north’ ) and trying to fit into an area with a much smaller-town feel, the stars aligned and the heavens sang (or, come to think of it, could have been all that newlywed sex) and I started feeling….off.

I held off going to the doctor until I was convinced I was dying. We were fumbling with bills and finding our way as a new couple – why would I put the added stress of co-pays and office fees onto our plate? Surely this would go away. Conditioned from years of having to drop thirty dollars every time I even set foot into a doctor’s office, I was panicked by the idea of having a chronic illness far from home. The tests that would have to be run would bury us. And what would happen if whatever-this-was was classified as an existing condition?  I knew my husband loved me – but what if this was something ….big?

And how in hell were we going to pay for this? It was enough to make an American girl heave.

When I finally confessed that I was scared out of my mind that I was going to bankrupt us and force us to live in the streets, Jamie was less than comforting. He was completely uncomprehending.

You see, in Canada, that doesn’t happen. People don’t lose their houses trying to pay for their health care or take out second mortgages for unexpected illnesses. People don’t get turned away from emergency rooms because they don’t have insurance. There are no horror stories of people with ruptured disks (a horrible, debilitating injury) being sent home without getting help. That doesn’t happen here.

Canada’s health care system is based upon a single-payer system. (This differs from the ‘socialist medicine’ label often slapped on it.) The government doesn’t decide what treatment you’re getting or have any say in what tests or medications you need – your doctor does. The provincial government pays for it .

That’s their only role in your health care. They don’t choose who gets what, they don’t say yay or nay.  Your doctor (or hospital) bills one single payer, so there isn’t any waiting to find out if you have insurance approval, no waiting for reimbursement. There just isn’t. This means that the Canadian health system costs much less than the States model – running one company to pay out is much more cost-effective than dozens of companies, all with their own checks, balances, and wait times for reimbursement.(And executive salaries, but that’s another post…)

I’m not saying Canada’s health care system is perfect. It’s not. But it’s a damn sight better than worrying that having an illness or injury – or bringing a baby into the world, which is what I did, a few months later –  is going to bankrupt your family or mean years of bills and worry.

Some very good articles: Denver Post Diemer.ca Campaign For America’s Future


Jessica moved from the United States in 2000. She blogs at daysgoby and is grateful every day to live in Canada, where she can get medical treatment whenever she needs it without having to choose between having food in the house and seeing a doctor.

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