Toto… We’re not in Canada anymore

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In 2009, my wife, our 5-year-old twins and I moved to Canada. Our family lived, worked and schooled in Halifax Nova Scotia for the next seven years. Last July, we returned to the USA to live in Keene NH. One of our most difficult transitions has been adjusting to the US health care / insurance system. Since back in the USA, we have much less access and support for Complementary and Alternative Medicine (CAM) through our US insurance coverage, than we did in Canada. In Nova Scotia CAM was an integral part of our health maintenance regime.

Our publicly funded Canadian health plan entitled us to some CAM – Natural Health and Wellness benefits but like many Canadians, we also enrolled in a supplemental insurance plan that delivered additional support and services. We selected a Blue Cross plan, which provided supplemental coverage along with complementary and alternative – CAM benefits. The Provincial Blue Cross plan was a nominal monthly fee of $274.14 for a family of four (212.00 USD), yet provided us with insurance sponsored access to acupuncture, homeopathy, therapeutic massage, naturopath services, chiropractic services, manual osteopathic adjustment, and physiotherapy.

As newcomers to Canada, we often did not know the way many systems worked until we bumped up against things and had to adjust our approach. Although we attended many immigrant orientation seminars, our best source of information about the intricacies of the Canadian medical system was through schoolyard conversations with parents of our children’s classmates. My wife and I were self-employed for our first year, but I was soon hired to manage the workshop and exhibit construction at the Maritime Museum of the Atlantic, giving us expanded supplemental insurance coverage. Our expanded coverage gave each person in our family benefits of over $1800 per year in Complementary and Alternative and other touch based care, for a total of $7200 in benefits annually for our family of four. Physiotherapy required a physician’s referral, our other CAM services were self-directed with no deductible. We had the best of both worlds.

While in Canada, we did not need to argue with insurance companies. In addition to covering our existing health concerns, treatment for a “pre-existing condition” was a non-issue, once we gained access to the publicly funded Canadian health plan.  Our insurance company trusted that we had a brain and a heart to make good decisions about our health. We did not need to wrangle with our insurance company over what was covered and what was not.

While lunging for the Tarzan swing at a birthday pool party for a classmate of our boy/girl twins, I tore my meniscus in my shoulder. Catching a swinging rope was more challenging than had remembered, or maybe my extra weight was too much of a load, and something gave way. To remedy my torn shoulder, I used a combination of Traditional Western Medicine (TWM) and CAM therapies. I needed both

Another example was when my daughter started to complain about an achy back. Through the hands of a very observant Chekhovian medical doctor (MD), we discovered my daughter’s scoliosis, and later confirmed the doctor’s empirical observations through X-rays. Once diagnosed, my daughter had at least one massage per month, which she would schedule after ballet class. Through a combination of massage, acupuncture, physical therapy and osteopathic adjustment, my daughter’s scoliosis shifted from a 7-degree curve to an almost imperceptible 2 degrees within a year and a half. We used up our annual CAM benefits. Seldom did anyone in our family utilize our prescription drug benefit.

The most dramatic use and benefits of hybrid touch base care was the treatment of my wife’s “Frozen Shoulder”. When she found a Physiotherapist who worked with Cirque du Soleil performers. Francesca liberated my wife from her pain and lack of mobility through massage, manipulation and exercise. We seldom need or choose to take a drug as a remedy because our Natural CAM solutions have provided the necessary relief.

Over the past 30 plus years, I have grown to know and trust CAM to remedy many health & wellness situations. My early family experiences also helped shape my trust in what some might consider “folk” remedies. My mother and father were both of French – Canadian descent. My father had cancer (Lymphoma) when he was 9 years old. His family combined the modern medicine with French indigenous remedies to heal his disease. My mother was a Registered Nurse (RN). Although she worked at St. Louis hospital, in Berlin NH, and knew all the latest modern WM medicines and treatments, she treated us with a mix of modern and folk medicine. When I had scarlet fever, she gave me penicillin along with a ‘mustard plaster’ poultice applied to my chest to pull the fever from my body.

My wife is native Japanese, she too grew up in an environment of care that was a mix of Western medicine, shiatsu, acupuncture and herbal remedies. At age six, she had a bad and long running kidney infection. Her grandmother boiled an herbal potion and enticed her to drink it by telling her, “good medicine is bitter”. Those early experiences shaped our beliefs in using a combination of ‘high-touch and high-tech” healing techniques which our family still uses today.

When we moved back to the United States, we chose Keene New Hampshire. The ‘Greener” values of the Connecticut Valley region combined with the Healthy Monadnock 2020, a regional wellness initiative here in Keene were attractors for us to settle. My employer offered me several insurance options through Harvard Pilgrim yet in terms of providing us with natural wellness options, but in comparison to Canada they provide little to no choice for natural health care. We miss having “open” access to complementary and alternative services through our elected insurance plan. We had grown accustomed to the hybrid care that we received, throughout primary care Western Medicine (WM) physician and the various CAM practitioners that we chose to work with.

After being away, and returning, the US medical system landscape has a surreal OZ-like quality to it. We recognize how fortunate we are to have access to the Cheshire / Dartmouth medical system. It is responsive, technically advanced and vast in its scope of capabilities but it is not as seamless as it first appears. The overlay of medicine and insurance is a complicated and time consuming experience particularly in resolving charges for services and projecting costs. My recent request for a referral to an osteopath for manual manipulation required 8 phone conversations between primary care, referred doctor and insurance to resolve. Insurance companies seems to always question my judgement. I often feel I am working with the man behind the curtain.

As a consumer in the US Health Care system, I do not feel empowered about my health, much of that due to the layers of players involved in getting approvals for services. We all miss the touch based care and other way of seeing our wellness that came from having real choices.

We are working to build a hybrid system of care through network resources, a mix of WM and CAM, but the pathways for care natural care in the US are not linear. Here in the USA, Complementary and Alternative Medicine are like the tin man, the straw man and the lion in the Wizard of OZ. Struggling to find wholeness and empowerment within a grand system of healthcare.

…and yet we are the ones working to find drug free solutions, using little to no prescription drugs and pain killers for our aches and pains.   Our preference is to find ways to listen to our bodies and work with the ‘self-correcting mechanism’ of our mind-body…… Without feeling like “if I only had a brain”.

We have lived in the Monadnock Region for over a year and we are just now beginning to build CAM resources within our HMO. On occasion, it has been easier to get in the car and drive 11 hours back to Halifax in order reconnect with our old network, but we are confident there are capable Natural Health providers in the area and we are committed to finding ways to have our wellness needs met within the local community and insurance landscape. It is our hope, through sharing stories with others parents, much like we did in the Halifax school yard, that we can grow to understand how to work with and re-shape this medical / insurance system to create a more ‘open” wellness landscape.