“Health Care” Hits Home…Away From Home: Some thoughts on Health Insurance and Parental Leave Policies

Today’s post is written by Prof. Dayna Henry, who teaches in the Community Health Education Program as well as the Women’s Studies Program.  She teaches courses in health counseling, drug use and prevention, and sexuality education and sexual health (among others), but today she is looking at heath care from a more specific perspective, that of a Canadian living in the U.S. as a permanent resident and as a new mother who has sought pre-natal, childbirth, and pediatric care through the current health care system.

Becoming a mom has made me….homesick.

I’m a first time mom to a now 5 month-old baby.  When thinking about what to write as a new mom, I thought of the many stories I’ve accumulated about being a new parent and an assistant professor.  However, I keep coming back to the same thing: I miss home.  I’m Canadian and living in the U.S. as a permanent resident.

I appreciate all the opportunities I’ve had living in the U.S.  My doctoral degree was largely paid for by the university I attended, and because of the number of institutions of higher education here, I was able to obtain a tenure-track position in my field the same year I graduated.  This might not have been possible in Canada, where finances for graduate school are more limited and there are fewer universities.  At the same time, when I found out I was pregnant in August of 2011 I have longed for my home country.  Why, you ask?  Let me explain.

I didn’t know what to do when the little stick I peed on twice had two lines instead of one.  I didn’t know who to call for advice.  If I was home, I would have called my doctor, who has been my family doctor since I was a teenager.  I wouldn’t have to think about a co-pay, deductibles, or what “type” of appointment it was (regular, specialist, etc.); I would just call and she would tell me what to do next.

The U.S. health care and insurance systems are just so confusing to me.  I’ve spent hours poring over my insurance policy (I know I am fortunate to even have insurance, something else that bugs me about the U.S.), hours calling the insurance company with questions so I can make an informed decision, and then hours dealing with bills from labs that misfiled claims or can’t wait to receive payment.  This all seems like such a waste of time and paper!  It’s easy to see why healthcare costs in the U.S. are so high.

In Canada, I wouldn’t have to deal with any of this.  No out of pocket expenses, no bills coming in the mail months after tests (I still haven’t been billed my hospital copay from May), no need to research whether something is or is not covered by my health plan, none of it!  Why?  We have universal health care.

I know what you are all thinking: universal health care isn’t perfect.  Yes, we wait for non-emergency services.  No, you can’t get an MRI in a strip mall when it pleases you, and no, prescriptions are not free.  However, with all the procedures, tests, and doctor visits that can go along with a pregnancy and delivery, I’d much rather be back home than having to deal with the many hours of my own research, phone calls, and paperwork that comes along with private health insurance.  How much does it cost a woman to have a baby in Canada you ask?  Her out of pocket expense is $0.  She probably has no idea how much it costs.  I didn’t.  (For a brief glimpse into the Canadian health care system. check out this post from Washington Post’s “WonkBlog,” ” Everything You Wanted to Know About Canadian Health Care in One Post.”)

Moving along…I am the only one working in my home. When baby arrived in May (right after final exams, lucky timing) I was able to stay home with her for all of 7 weeks until I had to teach again in the summer to support my family.  I am exclusively breast feeding her as per the AAP recommendations and plan to do so for quite some time.  Pumping breast milk so I can ensure my baby has what she needs is a logistical nightmare when you are working!

Yes, I know I am fortunate to have a job with a flexible schedule and a private office with a fridge.  I can’t imagine what it’s like for most women who work and pump.  At the same time mothers in Canada can take up to 52 weeks of leave, much of which can be paid time off!  That’s right.  One year to take care of the baby.  This leave is also available to biological fathers, adoptive parents, and relatives who might care for the child, including same-sex partners.  It’s not sick leave or unpaid family medical leave, it’s parental leave so you can be a parent. (For a quick survey of the differences between American and Canadian leave policies, check out this link to a quick comparison published in The Globe and Mail.)

I am privileged to have health insurance and the job I have. I can’t imagine living in the U.S. without that privilege.  And yet, every day I go to work and have to pump instead of feeding and caring for my baby, every time I open the mailbox to another medical bill, every minute I spend worrying about day care options, every hour I spend on hold with a lab or the insurance company, and every time I watch the news and there is another political fight over women’s (and families’) rights, a little part of me misses home.  I’m not saying I’m moving back, or that the U.S. should be like Canada, but can’t we try to do better for moms, babies and families, eh?



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2 responses to ““Health Care” Hits Home…Away From Home: Some thoughts on Health Insurance and Parental Leave Policies

  1. VickyD

    well-said Dayna- thanks for sharing your insights on being a new mother, trying to understand the US health “care” system, and being homesick as an adult. I’m glad I finally took the time to find and read this awesome blog. Thanks WS faculty!

  2. This is the perfect site for everyone who hopes to understand this
    topic. You realize a whole lot its almost hard
    to argue with you (not that I personally would want to…HaHa).

    You definitely put a brand new spin on a topic which has been
    discussed for ages. Wonderful stuff, just excellent!

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