Thursday, July 23, 2009

Americans Lives vs. Insurance Company Profits: the real battle in healthcare reform

by Ian Welsh

Lying about healthcare, indeed fear-mongering about healthcare, has ramped up as insurance companies attempt to keep their profits.  Those profits are created by a system where the US spends 5% more of its economy on healthcare in exchange for the worst results of anywestern nation.  To insurance company executives, their profits, their executive salaries, and their bonuses, are not just worth lying for, but also worth killing for—or at least letting people die.

The Shona Holmes Healthcare Hitjob

Case in point: Shona Holmes is the current poster girl for the liars slandering Canadian health care in an attempt to discredit reform.  Ms. Holmes alleges she was horribly endangered by Canada's healthcare system:

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.

Her story sounds bad, doesn't it?  Except, of course, it's a lie:

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.

In other words, her condition was not immediately life threatening, and it was prioritized accordingly.  But Holmes didn't want to wait behind people who needed care more than she did, so she went the US where she could pay out of pocket to jump to the head of the line.

Healthcare Triage: US vs Canada

Here's the deal: both the US and Canada prioritize patients, and both engage in health care rationing.  In Canada health care is prioritized by how urgently a patient requires treatment.  In America, to a much greater extent, access to medical care is prioritized by how much money the patient has.  Someone in the US who was sicker than Ms. Holmes was forced to wait longer for treatment because Holmes was rich enough to pay $97,000.

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