Monday, July 19, 2010

Health Care and Canadian Privilege

I probably should leave this alone, but the truth of the matter is that it has been bothering me since the subject was first broached to me. As most of you are aware, I am Canadian, which means I live in a country that has universal health care.  This is something that is very dear to most Canadians and something that no politician wanting to be re-elected would touch.  I have never been presented with a bill at any doctor's office or anytime I have had to go to a hospital.  Whatever tests my doctor think I need, ze orders them and I get them.  There is no consultation between my physician and an insurance company. When I am sick, paying bills is not something I have to worry about. This is a privilege that many Americans do not have, but I think referring to it as Canadian privilege is really missing mark.

Let's get a few things straight shall we.   My income tax is in the 30% bracket.   This means I must pay 30% of my dollars to the state before I receive a single dollar.   Fifty percent of Americans did not pay income tax last year, or had so many loopholes they didn't pay a lot.   After I get my paycheck, of course I need to spend money to acquire the items that my family needs for subsistence.  I am going to introduce to a lovely taxe that Canadians pay called HST (Harmonized sales Tax, otherwise referred to I am going to fuck you up the ass tax) In the province where I live, I pay 13% tax on items like:

  • Snack Foods (e.g., Chips, Pop)
  • Restaurant Meals for More than $4.00
  • Alcoholic Beverages
  • Cable Television Services
  • Cell Phone Services
  • Home Maintenance Equipment
  • Home Phone Services
  • Home Service Calls to Repair Free-Standing Appliances such as Stoves, Refrigerators, Washers, Dryers, and Televisions
  • Cleaning Services
  •  Electricity and Heating (e.g., Natural Gas/Oil for Home)
  • Home Service Calls by Electrician/Plumber/Carpenter to Maintain or Repair Furnace, Leaky Faucets, Bathtub, Toilet, Electrical Wiring, etc
  • Landscaping, Lawn-Care and Private Snow Removal
  • .Luggage, Briefcases, Bags, etc.
  • Commercial Parking
  •  Hotel Rooms
  • Taxis
  • Campsites
  • Domestic Air, Rail and Bus Travel originating in Ontario
  • Cleaning Products
  • Laundry Detergent, Fabric Softeners
  • Household Furniture
  • Household Furniture
  • Refrigerators and Freezers
  • Pre-Packaged Computer Software
  • Office Supplies, Stationery
  • Landscaping Materials
  • including Sod, Seeds, Plants
  • Linens (e.g., Blankets, Towels, Sheets)
  • Tents, Sleeping Bags, Camping Supplies
  • Tools
  • Patio Furniture
  • Pet Food
  • Barbeques, Lawnmowers, Snowblowers, Sprinklers
  • Toys (e.g., Puzzles, Games, Action Figures, Dolls, Playsets)
  • Outdoor Play Equipment
  • (e.g., Swing Sets, Sandboxes, Slides)
  • Craft Supplies
  • Building Materials (e.g., Lumber, Concrete Mix)
  • Magazines Purchased at Retail
  • Magazines Purchased by Subscription
  • Vehicle Parts
  • Short-Term Auto Rentals
  • Lease of a Vehicle
  • Labour Charges to Repair Vehicle
  • Oil Change
  • Tires
  • Window Repair
  • Purchase of Vehicle from Dealer
  • Boats
  • Snowmobiles
  • Recreational Vehicles
  • Gasoline/Disel
  • Over the Counter Medications
  • Dental Hygiene Products (e.g., Toothpaste, Toothbrushes)
  • Cosmetics Hair Care Products (e.g., Shampoo, Conditioner, Styling Products)
  • Massage Therapy Services
  • Vitamins
Above is just a small portion of the list. Believe me when I tell you that it is long and encompasses most of what the average person would need to function in Canada.   So to be clear, after the government takes their 30% of my earnings, they again reach into my pocket for another 13 percent on just about every dollar I spend.  This means that I am paying 43% of my income in TAXES.  Tell me again about Canadian privilege.  Items that are not subject to the HST are still most often subject to 8% PST (Provincial Sale Tax).  Then of course if you own a home, you have to pay property tax, which can vary by location. 

The HST is one of the most regressive taxes because it is not income based.  It applies to everyone across the board and specifically hurts low income families more. Even those who are currently receiving welfare or unemployment insurance must pay HST.  In fact, you cannot think of the benefits of living in Canada without mentioning the tax burden on the average Canadian.

When I cross the border to Niagara Falls N.Y. I see real poverty, the kind that you don't see regularly in Canada.  Even what we would call a ghetto is extremely different than what most Americans would consider. Even though I believe our social safety net should be greater the mere fact that we border the U.S. which does so little for their citizens does not encourage the Canadian government to do more. The goal often seems to be to make sure that we are more generous than the states but not as generous as we can be.

If you are currently on welfare, not only are your trips to the doctor free but all of the medication that you need.  If you are on disability, or are part of a low-income family you qualify for something called Trillium (in Ontario).You are eligilble for Trillium if:
  • you have a valid Ontario health card and are a resident of Ontario; and
  • you are not eligible for drug coverage as another category of recipient under the Ontario Drug Benefit (ODB) Program (i.e., you are not a senior over 65 years of age, you are not a social assistance recipient, you are not receiving professional Home Care services, or if you are not a resident of a Long-Term Care home or Homes for Special Care); and
  • you don't have private insurance coverage or if your private insurance does not cover 100% of your prescription drug costs. 
It all sounds pretty good as far a health care goes doesn't it?  We take of our sick, but never for one minute think that this does not come at a cost, or that it is just some privilege we take for granted.  Every time I spend over 4 dollars, I am paying my share of the health care cost.  Sure I would love to pay less taxes but I also recognize that this means less benefits.  So when you tell me I have Canadian privilege in regard to our health care system, it makes me want to hand you my 43% tax burden and see how you like it for a week, a month or even a year.  Health care continues to fail in the U.S. in large part because people do no want to pay more in taxes.  They expect the government to work miracles with less and less -- and then wonder why education, infrastructure and health care are a joke. To call out universal health care privilege is to negate the true cost that all Canadians pay, and the fact that we as a society have agreed to this burden.