The horizon is not so far as we can see, but as far as we can imagine

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

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.

A Personal Perspective on Canadian Healthcare

I should add that I have firsthand experience with how the Canadian system prioritizes treatment.  In 1993, at the age of 25, I became very ill with ulcerative colitis.  I was hospitalized, and put on very expensive drugs.  About a week after being hospitalized, the nurse watching me called in my doctors on a Sunday because I was deteriorating so fast—pain killers were no longer having any effect (i.e., high doses of morphine were not working), I wouldn’t let anyone touch me, and I was becoming delirious.  At about midnight, they wheeled me into the operating chamber and took out my large intestine.  While they were digging around, they found out I had appendicitis, and they took that out too.  It would have burst within 2 days, and in my weakened state, it would have killed me.

Unfortunately, one of the treatments for ulcerative colitis involves immune suppressing drugs.  My immune system basically shut down, my liver almost shut down, and I spent almost another 3 months in the hospital, riddled with extremely painful and crippling infections and other problems.  At one point I was on 9 drugs; one of them was an antibiotic so expensive that only a single doctor in the hospital could approve it.  My gastroenterologist called the treatment the equivalent of “pouring gold dust into your veins.” I wasted away, my weight dropping below 90 lbs.  I often joke that I was old young: I’ve used a walker, crutches and cane.

The Universal Healthcare Bottom Line

The ultimate point of my story is simple: I got the care I needed, when I needed it, and I never paid a single red cent.

Which is good, because I couldn’t have afforded to pay.  I was young and had very little money.  The kind of care I received, even back then, would have cost hundreds of thousands of dollars in the US.

If I  had lived in the US, my parents would have faced a choice between paying for my incredibly expensive treatment, or watching me die.  They were both old, and it would have wiped out their savings entirely and thrown them into bankruptcy, and frankly, I don’t know how they could have supported themselves.  My life, at that cost, would have had too high a price.  I wonder how many Americans have had to make that calculation.

But I survived, and neither I, nor my parents, was bankrupted.  In similar circumstances I doubt all of those things would be true for an American 25-year-old trying to survive the same medical condition in America’s health care industry.

Healthcare Rationing, American-style

I have had two American friends die in the last 5 years who would have survived if they had had fully covered health care. (Note I didn’t say health insurance, that’s not what people need.  They need health care.)

One of them died of the flu.  He didn’t seek treatment because of the cost of his insurance co-payment, and he was found dead.

Another had a heart condition, but didn’t know it, because she didn’t have health care, because she couldn’t afford it.  If she’d had health care, she would probably still be alive.

Both of those people are dead because of people like Holmes, and the people behind her.  My two friends are dead because insurance company executives want to keep their obscene salaries, and force Americans to pay more for health care than they should.

So What’s the Healthcare Reform Fight Really About?

Billions of dollars are at stake in the battle for American healthcare reform.  That’s the sort of money executives, and their lobbyists, and their bought-and-paid-for politicians are willing to kill for: to let you, or your friends, or your family suffer and die. Think of your dead friends and relatives as collateral damage in the fight for health industry profits; that’s how the insurance executives see them.


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  1. jbaspen

    Ian, you’re a THOUSAND percent correct! I’ve suffered from intermediate stage multiple myeloma for more than seven (7) years. I literally LIVED at the MD Anderson Cancer Center in Houston, Texas for the better part of a year (cell transplant and its complications). Unless you’re ready to croak, you wait weeks to see top specialists. And, on the day of your appointment, get ready to spend the entire day waiting to meet the Big Woman or Man.
    Overall, the care is superb, but there were countless other human beings, rich and poor (Texas Medicade Patients, Anderson’s a State Insitution), far sicker than me!

    Points well taken, Ian. Under our present “system”, health care is rationed, and how! Even at the best hosptals in the Country!

  2. tc

    Why do you say that someone in the US got “pushed back” in the line because of Ms Holmes treatment? If your illness is not profitable to someone down here, you die. It’s not like there is a shortage of doctors or hospitals, is there? Personally I think it comes down to a subtle form of racism. The reason Americans don’t demand universal health care is because it benefits the poor at the expense of the rich. That’s a hard sell in any country, but when the poor are disproportionately people of other races or religions, it’s a lot easier to distance yourself emotionally.

  3. tc

    But thanks for the story behind Ms Holmes. I knew there had to be one, and I knew I couldn’t count on the US media to tell me what it was. What a shitty person she must be.

  4. I am not surprised when ReThugniCons and Blue Rinsed Red DINOs band together to collect checks from the corporatocracy for selling the public interest and trust out to the highest bidders in this ungodly way. These greedy bastrads are always working harder for the Blue Cross than the Blue State VOTERS. They figure we can be taken for granted. Sure, we’ll whine a little now, but when we finally wind up with that insurance ‘reform’ that resembles mandatory auto insurance, we’ll just walk quietly off back into obscurity the way we did when the red-necked SCOTUS crammed two Dumya terms down our throats. We didn’t put up a stink. We just went away like the pissed petulent children, re-electing most of the same career politicians who have kept us neck-high in politically pounded out turds for literal decades now.

    We know this misguided, GOP overcompensated Canadian cow is mooing lies through her utters. But, a good 48% of the nation is justifying their xenophobic resentment for a President better than 50% of us decided mandated change and reform. Yes, I am sick of the RethugniCon swiftboating. Yes, I’m tired of the birthers and that resentful assortment of red state ‘real’ AmeriKKKan contrarians who willfully vote in their own worst interest, thanks deluge of toxic propaganda constantly poured onto the brains of these sheep by the corporate owned forth estate. But, I am just as sick of the President trying to placate every centrist party traitor, most of whom are only in their offices now because Obama campaigned as hard for them as he campaigned for himself in 2007 and 2008. Those churls owe him and us the voters hugely.

    On Tuesday, 04NOV08, we have made clear that we wanted UNIVERSAL SINGLE-PAYER NATIONAL COMPREHENSIVE HEALTHCARE FOR EVERY DAMNED ONE OF US!!!! We don’t want some stinky public option or any other half-assed substitute ruse whose basic craven intention is to continue to feed the pigs of the healthcare and pharmaceutical industries. They have been complicite in killing us through shoddy coverage or denial of coverage for long enough. We want industries whose life blood is based on fiduciary risk to be mandated through stiff regulations to assume that responsibility again, not passed on through stealth fine-print scams to consumers struggling to buy 50 Tylenol caplets. We the People are sick of being penalized with death sentences in a nation with the CONSTITUTIONAL right to LIFE, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. How’n the hell can we pursue happiness or enjoy life and liberty, when we are dying in droves, or slaves on jobs we hate just for the costly privelege of being harrangued and abused through insurance companies for the Tums and bandaids our meager plans currently afford us?

    That the Mayo Clinic took the price of a house off some impatient Canadian twit, to drain a benign cyst on her petuitary gland, should have been very telling! That is hardly a lethal procedure, unless, of course, it’s performed by booze-abusing teenagers following along with Discovery Health TV, using kitchen utensils in their less than sterile bedrooms. This idiot hocked her home, and Mayo Clinic schnookered her for the cash, just to drain a cyst she could could have had treated FREE in Canada, had she just awaited an appointment! Health Canada’s only crime was dinging this numbskull’s relentless hypochondria! She was just pissed she was triaged appropropriately, and idiotically took matters into her own hands. And, our healthcare system decided to play along because every single tithe of million buckeroos is the only thing that matters! If she hadn’t showed up with that cash, Mayo would have had security call INS to haul her hiney back to Canada. Why the regularly info-tained and bamboozled birthers can’t find it in themselves to see that this greedy madness is not what Jesus would do simply stuns me. After all, Jesus never once turned a leper away because great Kaiser – Permente claimeth thy illness predateth the Flood, or because Blue Shield claimeth thou art not from Nazareth, and therefore out thy Galillean coverage network. And, Jesus never charged anyone a single farthing to heal, deliver, or grant freedom. Jesus healed everyone who came to Him for FREE! I know, what a long haired, sandals-wearing hippy-liberal that Jesus is!

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