A great man once said, "Politics is inherently stupid." That great man was me.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Of Danny Williams and Healthcare: A Canadian Tale

Much has been said over the decision by Danny Williams, Premier of Newfoundland and Labrador, to have cardiac surgery in the United States of America rather than in his home nation of Canada. It seems everyone has an opinion on this as of late (myself included) and they are as diverse as they are heated.

This is a pretty complex issue that goes further than most Canadians will understand. What I hear from most of those opposed to his decision is an argument that states Mr. Williams should have "waited in line like everyone else" and had his surgery done here. These people also make the point that his decision to go to the United States for treatment shows a lack of confidence in our healthcare system. I also hear arguments that his decision to go to the US is wrong because it promotes two-tiered health care, which prevailing orthodoxy claims is an evil on par with the Cambodian genocide.

What I find interesting is the number of conservative bloggers who've assailed Mr. Williams for choosing an option many of them have been promoting for years - i.e., two tiered healthcare. Kate's argument is a "one tier for us, two tiers for them" concept that assails Williams and other political leaders in our nation for praising national healthcare and then heading south when they get sick. In particular she shows this video:

This video shouldn't be mistaken for Williams giving a dogged defense of nationalized healthcare - it's Danny painting Harper as an ideologue for the purposes of his 2008 ABC campaign. This is rhetoric, pure and simple and so we shouldn't take from this an impression of hypocrisy, although you can certainly be forgiven for believing it.

The ire of so many conservative bloggers raises a question. If a good number of them support two-tiered health care, why are they flogging Mr. Williams' example? Shouldn't they be rallying at the barricades for him? In short - not happening. As already mentioned, Williams ran an ABC campaign against the federal Conservatives in 2008 and in doing so alienated "mainland" conservatives already irritated by the infamous "flag flap" (ostensibly because many of them probably wish that their premiers had thought of it first). In short, you won't find Williams on their speed dials.

There's more to this issue though, although the national media hasn't seen fit to explore it. Five years ago, it came to light that Eastern Health had discovered that hormone receptor tests being run to determine treatment options for breast cancer patients had been giving flawed results. This meant that many breast cancer patients did not get the appropriate, potentially life saving treatments they could have received. At the time, Williams was less than charitable in his comments towards the health authority in regards to the matter. It comes as no surprise then that this has the optics of seeming as if Williams has no confidence in the health authority (full disclosure: I am in training to become a medical doctor under the auspices of this organization).

But this isn't the case, at least in terms of his surgery. By traveling somewhere else, Williams was able to receive a minimally invasive procedure to repair an incompetent valve in his heart rather than an invasive sternotomy in which his sternum would have to be cracked open. Needless to say, the recovery time for the former is a lot quicker than that of the latter.

And now for my two cents. I believe the following: if Williams has the money to go to Miami, where he owns a house and can recover in a more pleasant clime than St. John's, and have his surgery there as soon as possible than there is absolutely no reason why he should not be able to do so. By all reports, he had a pretty severe valvular incompetency which had progressed over one year's time. This can lead to serious heart failure and death.

In short, this is his health, and his money. Don't imagine that any of you out there would do any different in his shoes. In any event, by going to the US, he's shortened wait times for the rest of us back here. That's one more person who gets their surgery that much sooner. I doubt very much that they object to that.

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