There are many American ex-pats living temporarily or permanently in Buenos Aires, and here are two things I have learned about them:
- Health care is a critical issue, oft debated and discussed at length and in great detail both online and in person.
- Americans' schemas with regards to private health care (i.e. that those living in the US for most of their early years grew up without a public health care system) heavily influences their perspective on this issue.
It was his advice that I go to find a private specialist.
Later that afternoon, I perused one of the expat sites I frequent, and was very fortunate to connect with a woman who not only shared the name of a private specialist, but even took the liberty of booking an appointment for me by telephone -- with luck, I was able to get in to see this specialist (who turned out to be excellent, btw) within the week!
I was very grateful for the help of my new online friend, and intrigued at her perspective on the health care systems here.
I am well aware that in North America, I live a life of privilege. Although as a public school teacher and currently the primary breadwinner in my family, I will never be "wealthy" compared with some of my dual-income, privately-employed, business-exec-type friends and neighbours, I also know that I am miles ahead of the majority, who work long hours at low-paying jobs that do not fulfill them.
I am very fortunate in that I love my profession, and I can afford rent on a decently-sized apartment, RRSP contributions and other savings (most years), and a co-owned summer home in PEI. Although I don't always have extra money lying around, I can generally afford to send my kids to a decent summer camp for a few weeks, and I can walk into any bank and successfully apply for a personal line of credit. I don't necessarily want a credit card and its associated debt, but I rest secure in the knowledge that no credit card company would deny my application, and indeed would happily offer me a largish opening credit limit.
I did not "earn" any of this privilege, but rather, was lucky enough to be able to access it, based on where I happened to be born, what the colour of my skin happens to be, what kind of a family I happened to be born into, and what my mother tongue happens to be.
So, that's the first reason we did not buy a local health insurance package.
The second reason is that we wanted to experience -- at least in part -- the public health care system here. We had read that the buildings were old and run down, but that the doctors were excellent. We have found both to be true.
Thirdly, I should confess that we do have travel insurance for dire emergencies, and we also are not here for a full year, but rather, two shorter chunks (a three- and a four-month leg, with five weeks home at Christmas), so I knew that we would still have access to our imperfect but free, Canadian system if needed -- the boys both availed themselves of this, as they each had pneumonia (in different weeks) while home at Christmas! Their hospital visits were free of course, and their medications were covered by their dad's extended health benefits.
Our jobs also include dental, and so both the boys and I have our annual appts at the dentist booked for as soon as we get home in May.
The truth is that I am a cultural tourist... I am sampling the culture here, secure in the knowledge that barring catastophic circumstances, I have a pretty reasonable safety net. So, in some sense, I guess I am a bit of a hypocrite. But it's an honest character flaw... I am trying to learn and push my boundaries, but while still maintaining some sense of personal safety. And I'm dependent on the cooperation of my children's co-parent, who lives at home in Canada, and vested enormous trust in me this year. What else can I do?
One thing is certain... living this year is forcing me to reexamine my own beliefs. I'm interested, or example, in the fact that although I could have waited to see a specialist, I dug into our "emergency" budget to pay for a private specialist so I could go NOW!
I am thinking about why I believe in public health care, and what parts of it I am committed to and why, and whether there might be some merit to private health care, or at least, to a two-tiered system, and if not, why not.
Learning to stretch one's thinking and clarify one's core values... isn't that what travel is all about?