Monday, July 27, 2009

Lies, Damn Lies, and NO Statistics

Last week I listened to some of the Sotomayor hearings on CNN. The hearings were about as I expected, but the ads between sessions were frightening. A Canadian woman was on the tube telling me how she would have died of a brain tumor if she hadn’t traveled to the US for treatment.

HealthCare I have a number of Canadian friends and acquaintances, most of whom are physicians. They LOVE the Canadian system. They know that every patient they see is covered. Layers of administration for preapprovals and claim resubmissions have been peeled away from the process (I have spent 45 minutes on the phone to get non-tablet forms of medications approved for a pediatric patient). And they don’t have to inflate their base charges so that the 80% rate someone negotiated will cover the actual costs incurred. A couple of them have said that Michael Moore got their system right in Sicko. Even those who experience the system as patients like it. Yes, they pay for it with taxes, but they don’t have to worry about losing their coverage with their job.

This ad just didn’t sound right. Elective procedures often involve waits (like they can in the US), but I had never seen a documented life-threatening emergency put off that way. Then I heard this interview  with Maureen Taylor, a health reporter for the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation, on NPR’s On the Media. The full clip is available, and I’ve pasted relevant material from the transcript below, just in case you’re the impatient type:

Shona Holmes is a woman in commercials who says that she would have been dead within a year because doctors in Canada were making her wait six months to have her brain tumor removed. Tumor, in its strictest sense, means a swelling or enlargement. In Shona’s case, it was not cancer:

“What she had was actually a cyst in her pituitary gland, which you can call it a tumor if you want, but it’s not a cancerous tumor. And it was causing her some hormonal problems and pressing on her optic nerve to give her some vision problems.

This is not a life-threatening thing. I don't deny that it would be very disturbing to have vision problems and be told that we're not going to be able to operate on that for six months. So she went to the States and had this done. But nobody at the Mayo Clinic is claiming that they saved her life, yet this is being reported in the American media as a woman with brain cancer who would have been dead had she let the Canadian health care system prevail.

It just makes me angry that the media isn't looking into this a little more. It wasn't hard for me to find out what she actually had and do a little research on it. People, I'm not walking over a lot of dead bodies here on my way into the studio.”

Many of the other commercials feature patients seeking experimental or nonstandard treatments which would generally not be covered under present private insurance in the US.

Healthcare should be a right, not a privilege. Calling what we have in the US a “system” is generally inappropriate, because “system” implies some sort of order or sense. Most healthcare workers will tell you that rhyme and reason are not part of the way we fund medicine in the US.

Forty years ago, we put men on the moon. Today, we still have people who can’t get basic healthcare. Embarrassing, really. Yet we are listening to lies about a real system that works. Even more embarrassing.

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