How to Shock a Canadian

I know, I have shamefully neglected this poor blog, committing a Cardinal Blogging Sin.  Came home from a twelve-day trip that was wonderful in many ways but almost devoid of moments of leisure, particularly leisure moments that came equipped with internet access, to find the poor blog wilting in its pot from lack of attention.  Bad Blogger, Starhawk!  No treats for you!


On my trip I was in Canada, that land suffering under the strangle-grip of a government run health care system.  Now, in my professional calling I feel an obligation to educate, illuminate and occasionally inspire people, which I did with great purpose and stamina on the trip.  But deep inside, I still harbor an unrehabilitated adolescent delight in shocking people.  When I was an adolescent, right on that liminal edge when the early sixties of beehive hairdos and masklike makeup transformed into the Sixties, shocking people was easy.  I remember walking down Santa Monica Boulevard in West L.A. one spring day in 1966 in a simple poncho I had whipped up myself on my mother’s sewing machine.  My curly hair was loose, unrated, natural—and people were stopping their cars to stare.  Or standing on Highway One near Big Sur in the Summer of Love in a black, lacy Mexican blouse, a long, blue wools skirt (also made by moi) dotted with scorch marks and burn holes, and a black pea coat from a thrift store.  Tourists from Missouri pulled over to take my picture, first carefully locking all their little children into the car.


Now, in the post-Sixties, post punk era, shocking people is really tough.  As a graying, middle-aged woman, I just can’t compete with the pink Mohawks, nipple-ring displayers, tattooed and scarified youth that roam the streets looking for the alien space bar in Star Wars.  But in Canada, I found an infallible way to bring out goose bumps.


All I had to do was tell my Canadian friends how much I pay for health insurance each month.  “My health insurance costs $850 a month,” I would say, and jaws would fall open, forks would drop and flesh grow clammy.


And then, to follow it up, I could show my scar.  My scar is a delicate line across my right knee.  Last May, I tripped and fell in the chicken yard up at the ranch, and split my knee open.  David, my partner, went all manly and paternal and insisted on bundling me into the car and taking me to the nearest emergency room, a mere hour and half away.  I’m been in Himalayan villages with closer health care facilities—but hey, we didn’t have to go by yak!  The doctor gave me five stitches, and the knee healed quickly and cleanly.


The bill?  A mere $1200.


So, on this morning when I finally have a moment to revive the blog and when the Senate has finally voted a health care bill out of committee, I can rest easy knowing that our fearless legislators will protect me from that evil—a nationalized health care system, like my poor Canadian friends, who get treated for free.  Granted, they pay for it their taxes, and we all know that taxes are evil.  If I paid for my health care through my taxes, I might pay less when my income goes down, whereas in our system my insurance company can exercise its constitutionally protected freedom to raise my premiums as it did this year by $100 a month whether my income goes down or up.  And I’m free to continue paying, on top of the insurance costs, for my eye care, dental care and all my medications, independently and with none of that pesky government interference.


And my friends who are less fortunate than I?  They are free, too.  No one can force them to go get their teeth cleaned, their eyes checked, to spend their hard-earned cash getting a dermatologist to look at that questionable mole that seems to have expanded or to waste their precious time getting yearly pap smears or blood pressure checks.


Just as long as they don’t decide to refuse that new swine flu vaccine…

9 comments to How to Shock a Canadian

  • $850 a month! I don’t remember you telling us that when you visited! (Although I do recall the story of the knee at $240 a stitch.)

    Thank you for carefully shielding us of that awful fact, so that our jaws could stay closed, forks could remain in our hands, and our flesh could remain clam-less. 🙂

    If I paid for my health care through my taxes, I might pay less when my income goes down…

    One of the huge reasons we left the US for Canada is that voluntary simplicity is so much better supported here. People respect you for being thrifty and frugal, whereas in the US, you’re simply “poor” and often treated with derision. “Live simply, that others might simply live” is lost on many Americans.

    In the US, I chose to get along without health insurance. I could afford it, but I was in generally great health, and so I removed myself from the pool. I must have saved enough to buy a small house over the 17 years I lived without insurance. If I had been paying your rates, I would have saved $138,720!

    But really, in a sane system, should I have been allowed to excuse myself from having health insurance? Isn’t insurance about “pooling risk?” What happens when the most fit remove themselves from the pool? I’m a great driver — should I be allowed to drive without auto liability insurance, as well?

    This factor is seldom mentioned, and may be one of the reasons the US spends over twice as much on health care as Canada does — 16% of GDP, vs 7% for Canada, Germany, and Japan, all countries with excellent health care.

    Many on the fringe are worried that the people currently without insurance are going to drive up the rates if include. They should be concerned that many of those people are driving up the rates by being excluded, instead.

    • Thanks, Jan, for giving us the numbers! I too am pretty healthy, overall, but my mother nagged and nagged me into getting health insurance back when I was a young twenty-something. Having been self-employed pretty much my whole life, I pay all of my health insurance costs, with no pool at all to share the costs or employer to pick up part of them. My biggest health insurance crisis came when I broke my ankle–which can happen to anyone, no matter how fit you are or how much organic, locally grown food you eat. I will say, my health insurance covered the bulk of that expense. However, I was due to lead a trip to Europe a week after the accident. I went–on crutches and in a wheelchair. I had to get my stitches removed in France. I went to the emergency room, they took off the cast, checked the stitches, and said they weren’t ready to come out. They put on a new cast. That cost me around $25. I went back a few days later, they took off the cast, took out the stitches, and put on a new cast. The payment office was closed–the doctor just shrugged in that Gallic way and said, “Just go, and we won’t say anything about this.”

      Later, in Germany, I went to a private doctor who x-rayed the ankle and determined it was time to take the cast off and start walking. That cost about $80.

      And I’ll never forget being in Scotland, helping to set up an eco-encampment for the protests against the G8. The City Council of Stirling offered us a campsite, although they weren’t too happy about hordes of unwashed protestors camping at their gates. However, given that a few thousand people were going to be there, they set up a National Health Service clinic in a porta-cabin at the front gate that was open 9 AM to 5 PM every day. They also provided a free shuttle bus from the train station to the camp–granted, that kept the unwashed from roaming all over town, but it was still a great service.

      Oh, the terrors of the nannie state!

      I’ve just been indulging myself by watching Representative Alan Grayson on YouTube, the Democrat from Florida who said the Republican health care plan was ‘Don’t get sick, and if you do, die quickly!” When asked to apologize, he said, “I apologize to the dead–the 44,789 Americans who die every year because they don’t have health insurance.” I recommend watching when you need a boost in morale, friends–and checking out his appearance on CNN’s The Situation Room if you need a lesson in how to handle the media. He’s great! If only we had a few more like him!

  • Dia

    One of the NDs in our office asked a doc presenting info on health care about coverage ‘options’ that would include folks like her, Chiropractors, Massage thearpy, accupuncture – his response? That those were ‘feel good’ options, rather like getting a pedicure, & ‘of course’ should be paid for out of folks’ own pockets!

    As a massage therapist, I’d rather not jump thru all the hoops of most insurers, admire one local company that provides massage as a benefit (under their ins. plan) with a $15 co-pay for the employee ($58 total, so the company picks up $43)

    Would enjoy seeing a plan that includes simple co-pay for health care of one’s choice, & coverage for incedents like those you recount . . .

    flu vaccine, what flu vaccine ??

  • Kandella

    I hate to be a naysayer but what congress is trying to pass off as health care reform really is nothing like what Canada or the EU has. They want to mandate that everyone has to have insurance, but they are not adding a government run plan or addressing the cost. Ive seen estimates that say the crap they are trying to add will cost the average American family an additional $4000 each year in premiums. They are couching it in warm fuzzy rhetoric but if you read between the lines it’s really awful.

  • Well, health care CEOs need big bonuses or else they’ll go Galt and quit sucking up huge amounts of our health care dollars in return for making our lives impossible.

    I, too, remember how easy and how much fun it was to be shocking in the 60s. We won’t see the like of those days again, more’s the pity.

  • $850… Gulp! Oh, the wonders of the Free Market! In spite of having a government-provided Health Service in the UK, I did elect to go with private medical insurance. The reason? I’m also self-employed and the NHS can be kind of slow at times. And every day I’m sick, I’m not earning… Cost? 850 pounds sterling. And that’s per year, and I’m 56 so its a fair’ish comparison. Oh, and it covers my partner as well…

    There’s something deeply wrong about the US, I’m afraid.

    The National Health Service is deeply flawed, mostly because its been cash-starved and badly run for years. But please pay no mind to the Conservative MP wheeled out by the Republicans to inform you all that it doesnt work. It does work but it doesnt meet the needs of privately educated (Marlborough College – 12,000 quid a year) gentlemen like him.

    Obama is bucking a worldwide trend, a depressing worldwide swerve to the Right. Even so, I’m sure that as a mainstream Democrat, the concept of a Welfare State is anathema to him.

    But I’m the child of a Welfare State. Without it I’d have died as a kid (my Dad was a cop and an honourable one so we didnt have a lot of money) through nephritis. I was educated for free, and half my college fees were paid. When I couldnt find work, I got the basics – just enough to live on, and when I’m too old to work, I’ll get a State pension.

    Thanks to my education, I’m a high earner and at times I’ve paid 30% to 40% of my income back in tax. I dont begrudge that – I took out and I give back. That to me is a civilised society.

    Pity about Iraq and independant nuclear deterents, though……..

  • B Wilson

    I did the exact opposite, but with the same effect. A distant cousin and his wife from Detroit visited my parents. I told them what services were available and how we didn’t even see a bill after my sister’s extended hospital stay. By the end of my recital, their jaws were laying on the floor. Shortly afterwards they began serious discussion about moving to Port Dover, Ontario.

  • My best friend died yesterday. She was only 43. She had cancer. She was a writer and artist and didn’t have insurance so she didn’t go to the doctor until she was really sick. When she had surgery, she hemorhaged and needed a transfusion. They gave her the wrong blood and she developed blood clots. Even that she could have survived but they screwed up with the blood thinner.

    She was in the hospital in ICU on the phone to me and I was researching all the stuff that was going down on the internet and we were trying to stay one step ahead of the doctor’s latest screwups. She was in a “teaching” hospital because she was indigent.

    She didn’t want to leave this life. She fought hard to stay. I miss her so much. I already knew how bad the medical system in this country is. I was disabled by a chemical spill in 2001 and I’ve been dealing with it ever since.

    It’s all one – the environment, environmentally-caused illnesses, poverty, climate justice, climate change, sustainability, food security, clean air and water – us. All one. We’ve got to get our act together.

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