Compared to Minnesota, babies in Norway are a bargain

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By Eric Dregni

Eric Dregni is an author and a professor of English at Concordia University in St. Paul. He runs the Italian Concordia Language Village, Lago del Bosco, in the summer.

Ten months ago, my wife gave birth to a baby here in Minnesota. It was very different from our experiences eight years ago, when she gave birth to our first baby in Trondheim, Norway.

At that time, I was a student on a Fulbright Fellowship. Before we left for Norway, we checked out how we'd pay for the birth.

The health care coverage for Fulbright is administered through the State Department, the same system that covers our senators and representatives. You've probably heard that this is the "best health care coverage in the world," but I checked the small print. It said, "Pregnancy is a pre-existing condition" and not covered under the plan, as if it's some sort of disease.

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I called up the office for International Students in Trondheim and told it that we wouldn't be able to come because we didn't have any health insurance. The Norwegian woman replied, "You should just come over anyway."

I explained that we couldn't pay for the birth, but she interrupted. "Oh, you Americans! That's not an issue here in Norway."

I didn't understand, so I asked if she could send some of the documents, but she said, "When you arrive here in July, the sun will be out all day. It's been a long, dark winter, so everyone will be at their cabins in the mountains or at the seaside. The government offices don't really open up until September." She seemed sure, so Katy and I decided to risk it.

Once in Trondheim, we went to the trygdekontor, the insurance office, to register Katy for health care to cover the birth. The woman at the desk looked over our documents somberly and said she didn't think we qualified.

We panicked. We were all the way over in Norway, and I'd given up my health insurance from the University of Minnesota back home.

Then she assured us: "Oh, the government shall pay for the birth. I just don't know if you are eligible for the extra maternity benefit."

I scoured the literature and couldn't believe we'd be paid to have a baby. If Katy had been working for at least six months in Norway beforehand, she would get 42 weeks off work at full pay, or 52 weeks at 80 percent of her salary — paid for by the government, not her employer.

If the mother wasn't working in Norway — as was our case — she'd receive a lump sum of about $5,000 for the baby. This sounded huge, but Trondheim is the most expensive city in the world.

Compare this to when Katy gave birth again, 10 months ago, here in Minnesota. We have insurance through my job, but the deductible is ... $5,000. Exactly the opposite of Norway.

Not only did the Norwegian insurance system help us financially with the $5,000 to help raise our baby, it would automatically deposit about $145 into our bank account every month, because it recognizes that raising a child is a huge financial burden. This money would help raise our child, and would continue until he was 18 years old or until we left Norway.

When we did leave Norway, the government kept depositing money into our account anyway. I had to write to the Norwegian government that we had left the country and tell it to stop sending us all this money. It's a letter I sometimes regret.