Lobbyist Paul Miller is seen on Capitol Hill in Washington, Friday, March 20, 2009. (AP Photo/Susan Walsh)

The other day I was speaking with a dear friend who happens to be an American living in the US. He had injured his foot and suspected he may need stitches and a tetanus shot but did not want to go to the hospital cause of the expensive co-pay he would have to pay (over $1000). I couldn’t wrap my head around this for a couple reasons. First he works in the medical industry and makes a six-figure salary. If anyone in the US has good health insurance, surely it is he! Second, and most importantly, as a Canadian I literally cannot wrap my head around the idea of having to pay (twice) for health care.

In Canada we have universal health care, meaning all doctor and hospital visits, all medical tests and treatments (from blood work to vaccines, MRI’s to chemotherapy) are covered by our (provincial) health care plan. Many Americans like to call this free health care, but in reality universal health care is not “free” since all of us pay for it—to varying degrees—through our taxes (income taxes, sales taxes, etc), which are higher than US taxes. While certain provinces, like the one in which I live, have a semi two-tiered system where you may have to pay for a service (like blood work or an ultrasound) if you see the physician at a private practice, there is always the option to have these things done for “free” if you visit the physician at a hospital.

While I am well aware that the US does not have any form of universal health care, I assumed that those in a high-income bracket had full health coverage through their employers. I guess I know much less about the US than I thought. Now, I am not trying to promote the myth of the “Canadian utopia.” I am very critical of Canadian government policies in much of my research and writing elsewhere, especially in matters of foreign policy and geo-politics. And the wait-time for public health care is getting worse and worse. However, following another conversation with an American friend living in Canada, about the fact that few employers offer paid maternity leave beyond limited period and that there is no government subsidized child care anywhere in the US, it has dawned on me how behind US public spending is compared to other industrialized nations.

Almost all western European nations have universal health care and some level of paid maternity leave and subsidized child care. And they have Canada beat when it comes to subsidizing post secondary education! Though thanks to globalization, the EU, and the spread of “American-style” capitalism and economic austerity around the globe (which often entails the privatization of social services like health and education), public spending in all areas is declining in Europe. But even with ever-declining government social services (which are largely paid for through public taxes), the rest of the first world is light-years ahead of the US. Ironically, the “leader of the civilized” world seems rather uncivilized by comparison.

And this is especially ironic given much US emphasis on things like being pro-life or the need for “productivity.” For instance, while many American pundits and leaders are rabidly pro-life it seems that they are actually just pro-birth (something the late great George Carlin noted years ago) since the State doesn’t seem to give a damn about people once they are actually born and in the world. If it did, then there would be things like universal health care or access to good public education. And if the US is so concerned with family, work and productivity, why not make it easier for parents—especially mothers—to have children and also work. US officials tout the merits of family then turn around and strain people with children instead of making life easier on them. In purely capitalist terms, social services for families are “good business” in the long-term since it allows people to work and be more productive wage and tax slaves for the capitalist State in the first place! But I digress.

I did not write this piece to vent my frustration at the US. I am also genuinely confused—and concerned—about the state of life and quality of life of its people. Isn’t caring for the living also part of being pro-life or do they fall out of importance once they are born? Why be so passionate and adamant about allowing life to come into being and then do very little to help those lives thrive, or even just get by? Should a State that cares about the unborn not be equally, or perhaps doubly, passionate about those lives after birth? Just some things to ponder…