But the more important news is that a lot of people are expected to get
the flu this winter: perhaps as much as 30% of the population, or
100,000,000 Americans. That equates to 10,000,000 Canadians, but Canada
uses the metric system, so remember to convert.
Now, a typical siege of H1N1 usually puts someone in bed for 4 – 7 days.
If they happen to be unlucky and get pneumonia, that can be two weeks or
more. Chances that the flu will kill you are about one in a thousand, or
about the same as those of the Washington Nationals winning the World
Series this year.
Assuming that 30% of the population will miss about 5 work days due to
flu, that means a 0.6% drop in productivity, which will make the people
who think high productivity is a good thing generally miserable. Given
that the people who are temporarily not contributing to higher
productivity because of the flu will also be feeling generally
miserable, that seems fair.
But chances are that it will hit the American economy harder than it
will Canada, or France, or even Britain, even if the rates of infection
are identical. It's because of the peculiar and backward health system
Pretend, for a minute, that you are a single New York City mother with
two kids, six and nine, in school. You've got a generally crappy job
within an hour's commute, and it covers the rent, clothes for the kids,
and half-way decent food, which puts you at about the 50^th percentile
in terms of socio-economic status.
Schools anywhere in the world are just big petri dishes with kids rather
than microorganisms, and the flu will sweep through the schools
repeatedly. Since school boards seldom listen to epidemiologists and
thus don't know that pandemics, especially respiratory ones, sweep
through in a series of gradually diminishing waves (much like tsunamis,
yes), they'll close schools when the first wave hits, and, two weeks
later, when the level of new infections has tailed off, reopen them,
just in time for the next wave to hit.
So the six year old gets hit first, just as the schools have reopened.
You've already blown the budget on baby-sitters because you couldn't
afford to stay home for the two weeks when the kids were stuck in the
house, bored out of their minds and waiting for you to take off so they
could try to descramble the porn channel or try mixing up some meth in
So now you do miss a week's work, because you can't trust the older
sibling to notice vaguely alarming symptoms in the younger one, such as
cessation of breathing or assumption of room temperature. The boss isn't
thrilled, because about a quarter of his staff is already out sick, or
tending to sick relatives. He can't understand why, on $15 an hour,
these slackers can't afford home care or something.
The week passes, and exhausted, you return to work, where a mountain of
stuff is in your inbox because you and a bunch of others were out, but
that's no excuse for letting productivity drop.
Then the older one gets sick. Another week at home, another weeks' wages
lost, more fatigue, greater demands at work.
So is it any surprise that you get hit hard when the flu gets to you?
Because you don't have any sick time, you try to keep working for one
more day before finally admitting you can't do it.
Now comes a real dilemma. Bad enough that you're in bed and trying to
sleep while the kids are in school (assuming the schools haven't closed
again because another wave of flu outbreak has arrived), and you can
barely make it to the bathroom to throw up, let alone cook dinner for
the kids, but now you're starting to get a rattling cough and your short
ribs are starting to hurt, and there's a burning sensation in your chest.
You don't have a regular doctor because either you don't have health
insurance, or there's a $1,000 deductible on the health insurance you do
have. So you try to tough it out.
And, two days later, the kids go to the neighbor and say you're really
acting sick, and the neighbor comes and looks at you, and the next thing
you know, you're in the ER, about to be admitted with a case of double
pneumonia. You're in the hospital for eight days, at which point you've
lost your job (laid off for “lack of work,” or maybe fired for “bad
attitude” so you don't collect unemployment), and when you get out, not
only do you have no job, but you are now $120,000 in debt, there's no
food, the child protection people have been sniffing around because
nobody's taking proper care of your kids, and, because hospitals
discharge patients as soon as they think they can make it off the
hospital grounds alive, you still feel like shit.
That's the status quo that the Insurance companies, the Republicans, and
the screamers at the townhall meetings want to maintain.
Since no reforms are likely to take effect before next summer, good luck
this winter. Don't get sick. Real bad idea.
The insurance companies have hired a staggering fifty THOUSAND lobbyists
to promote the idea that health care reform is bad, and will hurt the
average working American. Lobbyists don't come cheap, so you can easily
surmise that the insurance companies are spending billions of dollars on
these paid persuaders. They're doing it because they have only your very
best interests at heart, you see.
Now, suppose you are a young mother of two working in Toronto. The flu
shows up. Schools close, which is a nuisance. But your employer is part
of a pool that maintains children's day-care facilities in the
neighborhood, so you send the kids there during work hours. The cost of
the “extra” child care will be deducted from your pay, but it will be
far less of an economic blow than having to get day care in the US would
The first child gets sick, and you take him to the clinic, where he gets
vitamin shots and palliative care. It won't make the flu go away, but it
will make caring for him a bit less stressful. Because family emergency
health matters are legitimate grounds for paid leave, you aren't losing
money by staying home seeing to the child. There might be more work when
you return, because Canadian bosses like high productivity too, but at
least you won't be as stressed and exhausted.
Second child gets sick, and it's about the same as the first. Your
employer is looking a bit grim, but he knows it could just as easily be
him and his kids, and because he doesn't have to shell out a small
fortune on inadequate health insurance for employees, he isn't under the
immense pressure his American counterpart is.
And finally, the flu reaches you. Being an adult, you already went to
the clinic and got a shot of Tamiflu, so your symptoms are mild. When
the symptoms first appear, you call in sick. This doesn't make your boss
happy, because a tenth of his work force has been out with the flu
already, but he knows that it would be far worse if sick employees were
showing up to work and spreading the flu because they were desperate,
frightened, and felt they had no choice.
Five days later you're feeling better, and you return to work. Your kids
are fine, you feel fine, your job is secure, you have money in your bank
account, and all your neighbors, being Canadian, have stopped bitching
about the flu and have gone back to complaining about the weather.
Your cousin in New York calls up, and relates a horror story about both
boys getting sick a few weeks apart, and then she got sick and had to go
to the hospital and nearly died, and now she's deep in debt, out of
work, and still weak and frazzled from her ordeal.
You suggest she get out of there and move to Toronto. It's prettier,
there's a lot less crime, and if you have trouble, the government will
try to help you.
Your cousin, shocked, says she could never consider that. “Why, you pay
nearly 15% more in taxes than I do! I don't know how you can live like
Meanwhile, fifty thousand well-paid lobbyists are out there, making sure
that nobody should ever have to live like a Canadian.