Be Not Afraid

"When I moved to Canada in 2008, I was a die-hard conservative Republican. So when I found out that we were going to be covered by Canadas Universal Health Care, I was somewhat disgusted. This meant we couldnt choose our own health coverage, or even opt out if we wanted too. It also meant that abortion was covered by our taxes, something I had always believed was horrible. I believed based on my politics that government mandated health care was a violation of my freedom."That's the opening paragraph of a detailed and thoughtful reflection titled "How I Lost My Fear Of Universal Health Care" by "Melissa", a young mother of self-described "Protestant Fundamentalist" background, writing about how her experience of Canadian health care has worked on her, and both calmed some of her fears and changed some of her thinking over the past few years.Despite the fact that Melissa comes at these issues (including abortion) with a different theological and ecclesiological background that most Roman Catholics do, she shares many of the same concerns. And, despite the fact she share many of those concerns, some of her conclusions most likely aren't the ones many of us would come to.But what I like most about her essay---and why I think it's worth discussing---is that it's an excellent example of the power of lived experience.

We see this in Massachusetts with the high levels of public support for "Romneycare", our version of near-universal access to health insurance. Despite (or because of?) the bad economy of the past few years, the law enjoys higher public support in the Commonwealth now than when it was first enacted in 2006.We've had a somewhat similar experience with same-sex marriage. Eight years after the first gay and lesbian couples legally got married in Massachusetts, roughly 60% of voters surveyed support the new status quo, while nearly 90% support some sort of legal recognition and protection (i.e., marriage or civil unions) for same-sex couples. Only a small minority prefers the status quo ante.I can't prove, but I suspect that in both cases (as in Melissa's case) the change in public opinion has happened primarily because the fear of the unknown was worse that the reality:

  • Massachusetts health care costs haven't skyrocketed; in fact, Massachusetts is slowly but steadily dropping down from its previous #1 spot as the most expensive state for health care. (And no government bureaucrat comes between you and your doctor.)
  • Same-sex marriage has had no discernible impact on the strength and stability of other marriages in a state that already had a relatively low divorce rate.
  • Canada, as Melissa discovered, has a lower abortion rate than the United States.

"And suddenly I could see why that was the case. With Universal coverage, a mother pregnant unexpectedly would still have health care for her pregnancy and birth even if she was unemployed, had to quit her job, or lost her job. If she was informed that she had a special needs baby on the way, she could rest assured knowing in Canada her childs health care needs would be covered. Whether your child needs therapy, medicines, a caregiver, a wheelchair, or repeated surgeries, it would be covered by the health care system.Here, you never heard of parents joining the army just so their child's "pre-existing" health care needs could be covered. In fact, when a special needs person becomes an adult in Canada, they are eligible for a personal care assistant covered by the government. We saw far more developmentally or physically disabled persons out and about in Canada, than I ever see here in the USA. They would be getting their groceries at the store, doing their business at the bank, and even working job, all with their personal care assistant alongside them, encouraging them and helping them when they needed it. When my sister came up to visit, she even commented on how visible special needs people were when the lady smiling and waving while clearing tables at the Taco Bell with her caregiver clearly had Downs Syndrome."It's unclear whether the Affordable Care Act will ever be fully implemented. In fact, if Republicans sweep the national elections (House, Senate, White House) in November, there's a good chance it won't.But if the ACA is fully implemented over the next few years, then I suspect we (or our children's generation) will look back at much of the current debate and wonder what all the fuss was about.h/t: John Aravosis

Luke Hill is a writer and community organizer in Boston. He blogs at dotCommonweal and MassCommons. 

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