In our family we have a saying. It started when our kids were younger (before they realized how awesome their parents are). We had some friends in the neighborhood and our kids played there a few times and loved it. From then on, whenever they were upset with us they would pack their bags and say, “We’re moving to the Cottons.” Meg says it to me from time to time as well.

The Cottons are like Canada, cotton canady you might call them. I’ve noticed that Americans often say they are moving to Canada when they are unhappy with the state of the nation. Usually its liberals who say it. But this week, after the Supreme Court upheld Obamacare, a clutch of conservatives tweeted that they were moving to Canada. This is a strange choice considering that Canada has a more progressive health care system than anything being proposed in Obamacare. I can think of some other countries that might be worth a try but not Canada.

Canada is the grass that is always greener. What if Canada doesn’t want unhappy Americans crossing the border looking to escape the madness? We always wondered how the Cottons would feel if we landed on their doorstep with our suit cases in hand!

As a relative newcomer to America, I’m still learning about attitudes to health care and rights. Most Americans who have lived in other parts of the world, or have even just travelled abroad, are more open about a public health care system, or universal health care. This is likely because they have experienced so called “socialized medicine” and it has worked and it doesn’t feel anything like voodoo socialism that fear mongering has us believe. The American author David Sedaris lived in France for many years. He said this about health care,

One thing that puzzles me in the American health-care debate is all the talk about socialized medicine and how ineffective it’s supposed to be. The Canadian plan was likened to genocide, but even worse were the ones in Europe, where patients languished on filthy cots, waiting for aspirin to be invented. I don’t know where these people get their ideas, but my experiences in France, where I’ve lived off and on for the past thirteen years, have all been good.

It’s the same for me, having grown up in Australia where there is a public health care system. I only ever used the public system and always found that it worked well. Our youngest daughter was born in New Zealand where our doctor made house calls through the pregnancy at no cost. And contrary to the myth in America, we didn’t pay outrageously high taxes to fund the public system.

Beneath the health care debate there is a more substantial issue that confuses me in America; the issue of liberty or rights. The right to this and that, personal liberty at any costs etc. Yesterday we were driving behind a guy on a motorbike, with no helmet on. In Michigan it’s his right not to wear a helmet. This guy was texting at the same time. I’ve got some problems with this. When the right to personal liberty makes you act foolishly, it may have gone too far. When his liberty puts my family in danger and could potentially cost society heavily, I have a major problem.

I’ve honestly tried to get my head around the American love affair with rights, but just don’t get it. Why does your right to own (or carry) guns trump my right to safety, or that of my kids? Why is your right to choose NOT to have health insurance more important than the right of underprivileged people to have the right to health care?

As an Aussie, I truly get the whole rebellion against England psyche. But it’s been quite a few years now. It’s time to move on from the adolescent “no one tells me what to do” mentality. At the time of America’s declaration of independence, some back in England called the American founders on their hypocrisy for being slave owners at the same time as they preached a message of freedom.

Until everyone is free, none of us are truly free. Independence is fine. Interdependence is better. We are ALL related; all of our rights are entwined.

Martin Luther King said it best,

I can never be what I ought to be until you are what you ought to be. This is the way our world is made. No individual or nation can stand out boasting of being independent. We are interdependent.

The real story last week was not the survival of Obamacare, but the inspiring example of Justice Roberts who stepped outside of his circle to vote for the common good. As New York Times journalist Thomas Friedman put it, he “took one for the team.” This is the spirit of mature independence. Friedman said,

Roberts undertook an act of statesmanship for the national good by being willing to anger his own “constituency” on a very big question.

I would like to see more people in America think about health care beyond their personal needs and rights. Follow the example of Justice Roberts. Think about what’s best for the whole, even beyond your own preference.

From this perspective, you might agree or disagree with Obamacare. I’m sure it can be improved in many ways. For my part, I would like to see it go much further. I would like to see a much stronger public health option in America and I’m happy to pay higher taxes to support it. I would like to see less focus on profit and more focus on health care. But I see Obamacare as the right step at the right time to keep the conversation moving towards a system that is equitable and just for ALL. Whatever your opinion of Obamacare, judge it on how well it serves the common good and not just whether it serves individual needs.

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  1. @Luzidoodles says:

    Hi! I follow you on twitter but this is my first time commenting on your blog. Let me get this off my chest:THIS WAS INCREDIBLY REFRESHING!
    Although lefty, #RachelMaddow expresses enthusiasm for “people being into it”. There are people on the right that do the same. As an immigrant myself (I was born in Costa Rica) such lack of this attitude is very disheartening. I think it says just that. That people are unwilling to sacrifice for the good of their compatriots. That people have lost faith in building a future for a nation. I have hope that our ability to communicate with one another in increasingly more real and effective ways will change this. Ultimately,   the real patriot is “into it” for the love of a country and its community, no? For a community to be all it can be it’s members have to find value in each other and enter conversations with a sense of openness. We certainly still need to learn as Americans that we can gain from each others ideas and values without taking away from our own. I might sound like a hippy, but where is all the love? Personally, I’m stoked that we’re catching up to the rest of the first world in this. :)  Bravo for speaking your mind so well.

  2. Hemi Boso says:

    Thank you for your insightful analysis of the American health care system (although ‘system’ might be an overstatement). Anyone who has studied systems theory knows that we do indeed need a “universal declaration of interdependence” in order to better understand and optimize the WHOLE system–not just a few privileged sub-systems protected by powerful interests. Cussedly independent American exceptionalism. If anything, we’re exceptionally navel-fixated and obtuse.

  3. ng says:

    I really enjoyed this post.  Very well articulated.

    It seems pretty obvious that the true issue at hand is that the current solution to healthcare is grossly imbalanced and, though there are many reasons why, one main issue is the rift between healthcare’s goal to focus on prevention while no one without insurance is being managed well via preventive care.  Health care providers are not allowed to deny anyone treatment, so those who don’t have insurance can only receive treatment.  Ergo, the people with insurance tend to indirectly cover much of the cost associated with treatment for those without insurance.  The only logical solutions are to:
    1) no longer provide treatment for those without insurance
    2) put everyone on a level playing field (no one has insurance or everyone has insurance)

    Of course, this is grossly oversimplified, but the idea stands.  And it would be a dark day when we would consider denying people the care they need for monetary reasons.  So option 1 isn’t really an option.  

    Those who oppose the Affordable Care Act: if you don’t like the proposal on the table, suggest something better (as opposed to proposing nothing at all).  Educate yourself on the real issues and the long-term benefit of this legislation, rather than focusing on the short-term cost.  It is indeed an investment and, like most investments, requires some initial spend.

  4. Well written article, you’ve succinctly articulated many of the issues involved. One of the key challenges is overcoming the power of special interest groups (within health care and recipients, as you’ve noted) who benefit from the status quo. No small thing, but not impossible.

  5. Heather says:

    While I did find your article very well written and it had some wonderful points, I don’t think that A LOT of people look at it from this standpoint. I can not afford health care. I only have a major medical policy that will pay for me if I become very ill with something like cancer or catastropohic but my deductible is 5,000. I do not expect people to pay for me when I am sick, i go to the doctor and I pay for my bill with cash as I go. Usually about 100 each time. I do not get sick often and do an annual check up. So with that said, I work very hard all day to take care of myself but I still do not make enough money to pay for the plan in the Obamacare or any other insurance. I do not feel like I should have to. So then you said to think about the greater good. Okay. I am one to always think of others and I have a really big heart. I have a neighbor in  the apartment up above me. She does not speak any English and has three kids. She never goes to work but stays home with them all day. Some days I come home at lunch and the little toddlers are playing int he street. The apartment manager says that they do not have the papers to be here legally so calling the cops would get her in trouble for having the kids in danger. However, i saw her and the three children at the doctor’s office and she had a medicaid card. She gets free insurance and is not here legally. I have a hard time with this one because she is now pregnant with her fourth child. We are going to be forced to pay for medical expenses that will also pay for people that are not being responsible and taking care of themselves. i understand that is already happening with taxes. However, I have developed a plan that works for me. I am responsible and I work and I am making a future for myself. I have a friend that works at a accounting office. She has had people tell her that they will be having more children by next year in order to get more money back on their income taxes. I couldn’t believe it but some people think this way! So those that are going to mooch off of the system will take advantage of the hard workers. I have said it before and will say it again. I have no problem helping the needy. I have a huge problem funding the lazy. 

  6. Heather says:

    P.S. I meant I don’t think a lot of people look at it from my standpoint. however, it is how I feel and it is frustrating. I want the world to be a better place and to be taken care of. How do we make it fair?

  7. Michele says:

    @heather  I have similar concerns although my experience is in watching this play out amongst my own peers, white and native citizens, using the system to their unfair advantage. I have always cared greatly and had a good deal of concern for my fellow man. I simply believe that some things are better appreciated and more appropriately used when earned.  I hope as Americans we can find the balance in between, for the good and fair benefit of all citizens. 

  8. Dawn says:

    Here, here. You offer a unique perspective since you are not American born, and I think we Americans have a lot to learn from you and your experience. Thank you for sharing on this particular issue – I think it is definitely one that so many of us are uninformed about.
    I also completely agree with your assessment on the whole gun rights issue. When does an INDIVIDUAL’s right to own whatever type of gun he wants supersede others’ right to life?