Don't take healthcare and holidays for granted in the US

by Joanne Black / 27 January, 2018

Ultra Aviation workers went on strike last June asking for better wages and health insurance plans at Miami International Airport. Photo / Getty Images They're a small Kiwi comfort here, but not in American workplaces.

I had a conversation the other day with a woman, Alice, who recently started working four hours a day at a local school. She said she was taking a while to adjust to having her day broken up but was grateful for the work, because she and her husband had been desperate for either of them to get a job “with benefits”.

Jobs with benefits are not like friends with benefits. In the US, usually the most important job benefit is health insurance. Annual leave is a benefit, too, but it is secondary to health insurance. In Alice’s case, for as long as she stays in the job, the health insurance will cover her, her husband, and their children until they turn 21.

This is a great relief to the family because, without insurance, Alice has taken her children to the doctor at US$150 per visit if they have needed to go, but she and her husband have not been for years. It is hard to imagine the anxiety of living in a country where no health insurance means either no hospital access or a financial struggle as a “self-pay” patient.

The lowest-income earners usually qualify for Medicaid and its reach was extended under the previous administration’s Affordable Care Act, but provision varies from state to state. The more you learn, the more complex it gets.

I am perplexed by those Americans who seem to think that allowing universal healthcare today would lead to nationalising farms tomorrow and, before you know it, you’re singing The Red Flag and annexing Crimea. The best thing to be said for the US health system is that it is unique.

The second year of Donald Trump’s term as US President has begun, disappointing all those who hoped that he would not last 12 months.

It has been a terrifically entertaining first year. No other modern leader has so dominated the news agenda – not just at home but globally. “Oh my God, have you seen Trump’s latest tweet” is a standard conversation opener here. On the downside, the world seems to have had less oxygen in it since he became President.

The reaction to each of his outbursts leaves little space for discussion about anything else. World news barely gets a look-in, except in relation to Trump. Thus there has been coverage of North Korea and a rumbling anxiety about trade disputes with China; otherwise, the Asia-Pacific region does not exist.

The Brexit wrangle gets some coverage, and Americans are secretly fascinated by Britain’s royal family, but the rest? Western Europe? Who needs it?

There are fears that Trump will pull the plug on the North American Free Trade Agreement, at which point Canada might also drop off the radar and Mexico will exist only in the context of where and when the wall gets built. “Shithole” countries just had their 15 minutes of fame.

Only history will tell us what it all means, but it is not entirely bad that the rest of the world stops thinking of the US as the axis on which international diplomacy revolves.

Pushing ahead with the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade agreement without the US was the right thing to do. The rest of the world cannot pretend Trump is not here, but it can act as though he is the disruptive, friendless kid in class.

People with sense get on with what matters, knowing that one day he will drop out or be expelled and those who stayed focused will be rewarded.

This article was first published in the January 27, 2017 issue of the New Zealand Listener.

Latest

March of the Algorithms: Who’s at the wheel in the age of the machine?
102434 2019-02-16 00:00:00Z Tech

March of the Algorithms: Who’s at the wheel in the…

by Jenny Nicholls

Complacently relying on algorithms can lead us over a cliff – literally, in the case of car navigation systems.

Read more
IBM’s new quantum computer: The future of computing
102458 2019-02-16 00:00:00Z Tech

IBM’s new quantum computer: The future of computin…

by Peter Griffin

The Q System One, as IBM calls it, doesn’t look like any conventional computer and it certainly doesn’t act like one.

Read more
James Shaw: Capital gains tax key to fixing wealth gap
102456 2019-02-15 14:54:45Z Politics

James Shaw: Capital gains tax key to fixing wealth…

by RNZ

The week before a major tax report is released, Green Party co-leader James Shaw has again challenged his government partners to back the tax.

Read more
Jealousy, murder and lies: The killing of Arishma Chand
102448 2019-02-15 10:28:12Z Crime

Jealousy, murder and lies: The killing of Arishma…

by Anneke Smith

Arishma Chand was just 24 when she was murdered.

Read more
Top wine picks from Central Otago
102233 2019-02-15 00:00:00Z Wine

Top wine picks from Central Otago

by Michael Cooper

Tucked into small corners, Central Otago vineyards offer nuggets worth digging for. Wine critic Michael Coopers offers his top picks.

Read more
Ivanka and her tower of crumbs
102404 2019-02-14 10:33:12Z Arts

Ivanka and her tower of crumbs

by Preminda Jacob

For two hours each evening, an Ivanka Trump lookalike has been vacuuming a hot pink carpet at the Flashpoint Gallery in Washington, D.C.

Read more
Youth mental health is in crisis and NZ is failing to keep up
102393 2019-02-14 09:52:16Z Social issues

Youth mental health is in crisis and NZ is failing…

by The Listener

The introduction of a free youth mental-health pilot for Porirua, and later the wider region, is welcome news, but it's far too little, far too late.

Read more
Guyon Espiner: Year of delivery begins in defensive crouch
102387 2019-02-14 09:21:07Z Politics

Guyon Espiner: Year of delivery begins in defensiv…

by Guyon Espiner

For a government promising 'a year of delivery' it has begun in something of a defensive crouch.

Read more