Both CNN and McConnell made a big deal out of Shona Holmes, an Ontario woman who claims she was forced by Ontario's health system to go to the United States for life-saving surgery for a brain tumour. She claims that in 2005 delays in access to treatment at home made it necessary to go to the Mayo Clinic in Arizona and pay $97,000 for her care.
In 2007, Holmes was part of a court case brought by the Canadian Constitution Foundation against the government of Ontario. The case challenges Ontario's "government-run monopolistic" health system that prohibits the sale of private health care and private health insurance for essential health services. It is still before the courts.
Holmes has become the darling of conservatives and the stop-public-health-care movement in the United States. She's testified before Congress, been on Fox TV as well as CNN, and her story is retold on hundreds of right wing blogs. She's now doing a nasty TV ad for Patients United Now, a Republican-led group opposed to Obama's reforms. You can see the ad at www.patientsunitednow.com. The group is spending almost $2 million on it to target politicians in Washington.
For a person living with cancer, the idea that someone's care could be unreasonably delayed is truly scary. It also doesn't reflect the experience I've had or the experiences that have been shared with me by so many other patients. Even CNN interviewed Doug Wright, a more typical patient in Toronto who is receiving very speedy treatment for his cancer.
Still, I found Holmes tale both compelling and troubling. So I decided to check a little further. On the Mayo Clinic's website, Shona Holmes is a success story. But it's somewhat different story than all the headlines might have implied. Holmes' "brain tumour" was actually a Rathke's Cleft Cyst on her pituitary gland. To quote an American source, the John Wayne Cancer Center, "Rathke's Cleft Cysts are not true tumors or neoplasms; instead they are benign cysts."
There's no doubt Holmes had a problem that needed treatment, and she was given appointments with the appropriate specialists in Ontario. She chose not to wait the few months to see them. But it's a far cry from the life-or-death picture portrayed by Holmes on the TV ads or by McConnell in his attacks.
So, she had a benign growth, that her health care (the government system) would threat, if she was willing to wait a few months.
Sounds like a story of someone I know, who had a vastly different outcome.
That person is me.
In early 2004, I wnet to the doctor. The main reason I went was for a regular checkup (the last one I've had, BTW). I also had some things I needed to discuss with my doctor.
One of those things was some raised moles on my head. He referred me to a dermatologist who ran some tests. Turns out they were benign, but a benign raised mole is a ticking time bomb. So, he wanted to remove them.
However, doctors don't make those type of decisions in America. He had to ask the insurance company, who told him no. Twice. Not a "we'll get that taken care of in a few months, maybe as long as 18."
A "We won't cover it because it's cosmetic. Sure, we'll cover it and the extra expenses associated with it when it becomes cancerous (which almost every medical expert says it will), but we're willing to take that risk. If you ever want it taken care of before you have cancer, pay for it yourself! (to the tune of several thousand dollars which I didn't/don't have)"
So, nothing was done, I was told to keep an eye on them, and they wished me well.
And then my life situation changed and I joined the ranks of the uninsured.
Which means that if/when I ever have insurance again, they won't pay for it either. Even if it's cancer, because it's a pre-existing condition.
Meanwhile, I have to hope and pray that every headache is just a headache, maybe a migraine or caffeine withdrawals, and not the big C.
If I lived in canada, the problem would have been fixed. In 2008 at the latest.