One of the drawbacks of being a Canadian living in the good ol’ U S of A is that I’m denied a perk its native-born sons and daughters often take for granted: the right to bitch and moan about America while simultaneously enjoying all of its benefits.
There’s an unspoken understanding state-side that, no matter how viciously one might attack America’s governmental policies or socio-economic problems, having been born on American soil logically entails a deep, abiding love for the country, in spite of one’s furious rants to the contrary. This was a steep learning curve for me when engrossed in casual talk with coworkers or my girlfriend: namely, that when a True American states their displeasure with something about the U.S., it’s innately understood that they hate this one thing about the country while still cherishing it with passion; but if a Goddamn Immigrant agrees with their displeasure, it’s because they’re an ungrateful foreigner, unacquainted with the solemn majesty that is George Washington’s America.
“The occupation of Iraq was a blatant exploitation of post-nine-eleven goodwill to wrest control of the oil industry,” someone at work would say.
“Bush is a war criminal,” another would agree. “Pure and simple.”
“Yeah,” I’d add. “It sure is a complicated issue.”
“If you hate America so much, why don’t you go home?” it would be pointedly suggested.
After a few such run-ins, I learned my lesson. Poverty, race, immigration policies, the politics of war—whatever the topic, I could be counted on to chime in with a “Still, America’s a damn great country, huh?” in the hope that nobody at my office would demand the swift deportation of such a flag-wavingly patriotic adopted son.
Despite my routine acquiescence, however, there’s still one American policy to which I remain vocally opposed, and that is healthcare; and that’s only because it sucks so bad that I’m simply unable to applaud it with a straight face. The If you don’t like it go home comments can fly fast and furious on this one; I’ll only reply with “Well, if I did, I could at least break my arm without having to mortgage my house, couldn’t I?”
As a result, there’ve been several heated debates in the Pinkerton house between my girlfriend Karla and I. These typically spark while watching TV, after yet another commercial for some new medicine’s come on. An actor wearing a stethoscope and scrubs will dramatically command that we, the viewing audience at home with no medical training or knowledge of human physiology, “recommend,” “ask” or even “tell” our doctor to prescribe us a Hot New Medicine.
“Yes, that makes perfect sense,” I’ll say crabbily. “I should go demand that my doctor prescribe me this particular brand of blood pressure medication. Clearly his opinion, based on years of study in pharmacology, is no match for the opinion of celebrity endorser Jack Nicklaus. If this medicine wasn’t the most effective on the market, how would he be able to frolic on the beach with his wife and golden retriever?”
Karla’s no great fan of American healthcare either, I should point out, and in fact will criticize it right up until the point where I join in; at which point she can be depended upon to pull an American flag, drum and fife out from behind the couch and start tromping around the living room humming something about bombs bursting in the air.
I had my first opportunity to sample the American healthcare system up close a few months ago, when I came down with a nasty ear infection and was forced to make an appointment. I’m on Blue Cross at work, and luckily was spared the primary flaw of American healthcare, which is that most of the population is unable to obtain it.
Instead, I merely had to contend with American healthcare’s secondary flaw, which is that it’s largely a private enterprise, and so conducts itself in much the same way as McDonalds or Walmart.
In Canada, when I went to the doctor for an ear infection, I was given a thorough check-up and prescribed antibiotics. In America, when I went to the doctor, I was given a one-minute cursory check-up and asked if I wanted seven different kinds of antibiotic, including an anti-depressant, then hurried out after being given a shopping list of prescribed medicines and two further appointments at weekly intervals.
“It’s not like Canadian healthcare is perfect either,” Karla said, after I’d returned home and started ranting about everything. “At least I can go see a specialist without a two month wait,” she added, referring to a long waiting list I’d been on in Canada to see an ear specialist.
And yes: the waits are longer. The best doctors get siphoned off to the U.S., where they can start charging prices for their expertise that 1% of the population can afford. But the fact remains that Canadian healthcare might be slow, and expensive, and under-skilled comparatively; but it works. Everybody puts money into the pot like it’s a big medical lottery; if you get hit by a car, you win.
You don’t have to worry about having enough money to ensure you get better if you get very sick. You don’t have to be concerned about your doctors having ulterior motives when they suggest return appointments and prescribe medicine. And you don’t get sold antibiotics on TV, as if a drug weren’t a complex chemical compound prescribed to you as the result of a trained professional’s diagnosis, but rather some new and exciting vacuum cleaner you don’t want to be the last one on the block to own.
American healthcare is all most Americans have ever known. Having sampled alternatives, and admitting U.S. dominance in so many other fields (the Olympics, for one), I can safely pronounce: I’m sorry, America. Your healthcare really, truly, and enormously sucks.
As my coworkers might say, “If you don’t like it, go back to Canada.” Well, at some point I might just. And when I do, I’ll be sure to take a few Yanks with me, if only to give the poor bastards a reference point of some kind — to a medical system where you’re free to get hit by a bus like any normal person, and the first thing you think upon regaining consciousness isn’t “I wonder if I can make a splint at home with the plywood from my soup cupboard?” or “Say… I should ask my doctor about Stryker Replacement Hips, the brand Jack Nicklaus recommends!”
After readig the above article, JP.com reader Scott emailed me a hilarious link to a spoof site for a drug called Panexa—”Ask your doctor for a reason to take it”—that doesn’t ever once actually explain what it’s supposed to cure. Worth a look, especially for the small print.