15 November 2011

Is there decent health care in debtor's prison?


There's a tumblr blog I go to quite frequently called We Are the 99 Percent which is simply photographs of people holding a sign that describes why they feel they are part of the Occupy movement's 99 percent. I have a hard time figuring out why I find this so compelling. The site has hundreds of these pictures of people who are in debt, un- or underemployed, insecure about food and housing, and often sick or disabled. So many of these accounts are of folks who are carrying debt from student loans, underwater homes or medical bills. This debt renders them indentured servants, but with no guarantee of employment. 

Quite honestly, I can't really relate to most of these people. By far, most of them are American, and as much as Americans and Canadians may be indistinguishable to the rest of the world, there are some major differences that are particularly relevant here. The real estate bubble hasn't burst here, and in many parts of the country there is no real estate bubble. Most Canadians are not underwater on their mortgages and there hasn't been any spate of foreclosures. Most universities here are publicly funded and tuition fees average about $5000 a year for undergraduate programs. The biggest difference, though, is our publicly funded health insurance. Every Canadian has a provincial health card that provides all basic health services for free. Ok, it's not free. We pay for it through a reasonably progressive taxation system. Poor people pay less than rich people, but everyone receives the same care. Every emergency room visit, every hospital stay, every doctor's appointment (specialists too), diagnostic tests, surgery, childbirth - all free. No worries about pre-existing conditions, co-pays, HMOs (whatever they are), unaffordable premiums or bankruptcy due to medical bills. Oh, we complain about wait times. Sometimes people have to wait longer than they'd like for MRIs and elective surgeries. And for people under 65, drugs aren't covered unless you have supplemental insurance, usually from your employer. But, a catastrophic illness isn't automatically a financial catastrophe.  

I don't know why Americans are so vehemently opposed to the kind of reasonably civilized health care enjoyed by most citizens of the developed world. From my outside perspective it seems that a significant number of people are being condemned to suffer for an obviously failed ideology. 


  1. It is a mystery to me why citizens will put up with a government that doesn't provide the over-arching medical coverage that exists in Canada...In Australia there is a ridiculous system where you have to pay into private health funds or face higher taxes, but you still have to pay health service providers because neither the private nor public coverage is enough to cover the expense (WTF?!?!) How can a government be permitted to exist that bails out big companies but won't bail out it's sick citizens?

  2. I guess money talks, and obviously in a pretty devious way. I do wonder why folks haven't taken up pitchforks long before now.

  3. I have often wondered this as well. For a while there Australia went through a rather depressing era called the "Howard Years" where our great leaders decided for some bizarre reason that the US health system was worth following, and much was done to dismantle our universal public health system......but it still kind of works.....as long as you don't need dental work done.....Seemed weird to force working folks who would happily pay more taxes for a better free public health system for all to take out private insurance .......

    Sometimes the world is a crazy place......

  4. I guess if there is any way for public assets to be transferred to private hands, they will, under certain ideological systems. After all, if the government doesn't make laws that allow the 1% to make lots of money , what do we need it for?



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