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The Canadian Health-Care Bogeyman June 5, 2009

Posted by Kate Ryan in Democrats, Economy, Health Care, National Politics, Republicans.
Tags: , , , , , , , ,

cnadacareLiving in Buffalo kind of gives you a perspective on Canada that is difficult to get most anywhere else in the United States.  I am literally 10 minutes from the border and have traveled all around the province of Ontario in the many years that I have lived here.  I like Canada – and I like the Canadian people.  I can honestly say that the cities are cleaner, the people are nicer, and the middle class seems more prosperous than anywhere I have ever been in the U.S.

So, imagine my surprise when I read that the leader of Canada’a New Democratic Party (NDP) Jack Layton is really mad at us.  Layton has gone to Washington to dispel the “myths and misperceptions” that some Congressional Republicans are using to demonize the Canadian health care system.  

Mr. Layton is concerned that the Canadian system is not being portrayed accurately in the health care debate and that politicians are using some Canadians to skew the facts, most prominently a woman named Shona Holmes. 

Shona Holmes faced long wait times for brain-tumor surgery in Ontario.  Ms. Holmes had a brain cyst and her eyesight was failing.  She eventually travelled to the Mayo Clinic in Arizona for treatment and has since become an anti-Canadian health system advocate.

Senator Mitch McConnel (R-KY) is holding Ms. Holmes out as an example of bureaucracy gone bad.  “Shona’s life was eventually saved because she came to the United States for the care she needed,” McConnel said on the Senate floor. 

What McConnel didn’t say in his speech is that Ms. Holmes obviously had the (extensive) financial resources to pay an American hospital for travel, diagnosis, treatment, surgery, and after care.   The U.S. average cost of having a simple defibrillator implant – surgery and a 48-hour hospital stay – is $87,500.  Ms. Holmes obviously had to pay well into the multiple six figures for her care.  Ms. Holmes exercised an option available to anyone around the world with money – go somewhere else if you can’t or won’t wait. 

It is terrible that Shona Holmes was asked to wait months for her eyesight-saving treatment.  If Holmes had been an uninsured working American, however, what would her choices have been?  She probably would have delayed seeking treatment until her eyesight was affected in a major, and perhaps irreversible, way.  Then, she would be told she had to come up with thousands of dollars to get an MRI.  She probably would have maxed out her credit cards on that.  Upon diagnosis, and being told she needed surgery, she would have had to wait until she could save up some money – delaying treatment further – or enter into a payment arrangement that would financially cripple her and her family.  Then, when she got well, she would never be able to obtain health insurance for the rest of her life, because she once had brain surgery and her “pre-existing condition” made her an unacceptable risk.

That’s what Shona Holmes won’t be telling you, either.  No matter what her previous health problems, she can still obtain care in the Canadian system.  Now that she is well, she can go on with her life knowing that whatever happens to her, health-wise, she will receive care.  Unlike Maggie Yount, a 24-year old Canadian living in the U.S. 

In 2007, Yount was hospitalized for a car crash that left her with a traumatic brain injury, 13 broken bones, and in a coma for 4 days.  She spent three months in a Canadian facility receiving costly reatment and rehab.  She never saw a bill and has no idea what it cost.  The Canadian health system paid it all.  Maggie Yount, however, married an American and now lives in the U.S.   She cannot obtain health insurance anywhere because she once needed medical care.  “It looks like I’ll just have to be very, very careful about everything,” Yount said. “But what kind of way is that to live your life?”

New bankruptcy statistic were released yesterday that showed that over 60% of all personal bankruptcies are caused by the inability to pay medical expenses.  Of those claiming medical as a reason for bankruptcy, 70% were covered by insurance.  It was what wasn’t covered that did them in.  By contrast, in Canada, 15% of personal bankruptcies cite medical reasons – and that is mostly due to the loss of income suffered when the person can not work. 

It’s time to put this bogeyman to rest.  For more on the myths and misleading information about Canadian health care, see Snopes.com or Alternet.org.



1. kino-klad - October 28, 2009
2. GarykPatton - June 16, 2009

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3. KattyBlackyard - June 15, 2009

Hi, very nice post. I have been wonder’n bout this issue,so thanks for posting

4. Jack Home - June 6, 2009

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