The Koch brothers lie about Canadian healthcare

Loma Linda Hospital

The Koch brothers are spending $6million on a new anti-Obama ad; an ad featuring a Canadian woman from Ontario.

Shona Holmes claims our medicare system blocked her from getting the immediate treatment she needed to prevent her from dying from a brain tumour.  She mortgaged her home to buy life saving treatment at a Mayo Clinic in the US.

Except she never had a brain tumour.  She had a benign cyst on her pituitary gland.  Very serious, but not life threatening and treatable in the time period planned in Ontario.

I completely get the fear one goes through when you get told you have a tumour on or near the brain.  I do have a brain tumour and have come close to dying more than once.

My tumour is actually a brain stem tumour that has spread throughout the area around my brain stem, around my throat, below my nose, on my spinal chord and flopping around next to my carotid artery.

It will probably kill me, not now, but someday. But more importantly, I’m alive because of our medicare system.

Friends I made during treatment in the States didn’t have Canada’s options.  They died.  Let me tell you about that.

In 2002 I had a tennis ball sized tumour excised from my nasopharyngeal cavity.  The surgery saved my life but wasn’t enough to keep me alive.  Scalpels couldn’t get every microscopic chunk of tumour so the next step was radiation.

The problem with radiation around the brain is that it kills the good with the bad – you can decide for yourself which is which.  So I needed something precise with a record of effectiveness.  In my case that meant proton radiation.

Proton radiation isn’t available in Canada.  At the time there were four sites in the US that offered it and I was referred within two weeks to Loma Linda hospital, just off the number 10, half way between LA and Palm Springs.

All it took was a letter from my radiologist to MSP reviewing my condition and very limited treatment options.  The full expenditure was immediately approved and I was on my way to Loma Linda.

I spent three months there at the out patient clinic buried deep underground with it’s concrete walls a metre thick.  Proton radiation requires an atom splitter and Loma Linda had a big track underground that created the velocity to smash atoms and send a single proton ray down a tube and out a gun into my head.

It was right out of DC comics.  Lex Luthor was probably sitting alone in some white office behind the thick walls, laughing at us.

Five days a week I’d go in for my treatment, strapped down on a metal bed with a mask molded to my face, keeping my head still as the proton gun pumped the rays into it.

Like some crazy asylum, the waiting room was full of patients.  Most were there for one of two reasons – brain tumours or prostate cancer.  The prostate guys were generally older, richer white men who could afford to pay for the best, optional treatment for prostate cancer.  They gathered around the TV and watched Fox news.

The others were regular folks with brain tumours and HMO funding.

There was a free phone in the waiting room and there was always a line for it.  At the end of the line was a patient on the line, often to their HMO talking about funding.

I made friends there with a woman from Texas with a lousy husband, kids and her own promising career.  Except, like me, she had a chordoma.

The treatment for chordoma was 8-10 weeks of proton radiation, give or take a few days.  It cost somewhere between $100 and $200 thousand and most HMO’s didn’t want to cover it.  My friend was no exception.  So several times a week she’d get on the phone to plead with her insurer to pay for another week of treatment.

She didn’t complete the treatment.  And she stopped answering my emails a year later.  She was dead.

I met a very funny guy from the South with some kind of cancer of the scalp.  He didn’t complete.  He’s dead.

I was asked to talk with a young guy who didn’t have the money to get a proper diagnosis until too late.  So as the chordoma destroyed the vertebrae in his neck he saw a chiropractor who told him he was out of alignment.  For two years he was out of alignment.  Then in terrible pain he saw a real doctor.  He didn’t complete.  He’s also dead – late diagnosis, limited treatment.

There are problems with our system.  Waiting lists for painful but less catastrophic illnesses are often too long.

But in Canada there are no people at the end of a phone pleading for funding to continue life saving treatments.  People die in the States because they can’t afford treatment and their private plans won’t pay for it.

I’m at the BC Cancer Clinic a lot.  I see frustrated people.  I’m often frustrated.  But I don’t see people pleading for treatment they need but can’t afford.  None.  You can’t say that about the US.

People like me, living in Canada, have it so much better.

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23 Responses to The Koch brothers lie about Canadian healthcare

  1. Sandra says:

    Thank you for sharing this story with us Ian…so, so very sad that people living in one of the richest countries in the world die so a corporation can protect their bottom line.

  2. David Blue says:

    I feel so sorry for Americans. They pay a ridiculous amount for health care. They can only see doctors approved by their insurance company and still have to pay thousands of dollars if they ever have to step foot into a hospital. Their insurance companies make billions from the system and provide little coverage. The companies pay lobbyist millions to make sure that Americans are never given a viable and affordable choice. They run fear campaigns to brainwash people to think that our (Canadian) system is some form of communism and we all die while waiting to see a doctor. I have myasthenia gravis. When I went to my doctor and started telling him the symptoms I was having, he made an appointment for a few days later to see a neurologist. I began treatment that same day. Over the two years of treatment, I saw three different specialists and was taking rather expensive medications. If I made less money then I do, my medications would have been covered. I was able to claim my medications on income tax and did not pay a penny for anything else. I had every test, scan and what ever imaginable. I did not have to wait any unreasonable time I have been in remission for seven years now and hope to remain that way for the rest of my life. I know that is it ever comes back, I am covered. I would never get health care in the states and if I did it would cost a fortune and I doubt it would cover anything to do with the myasthenia gravis, if it ever came back. Americans, you are being held hostage by huge corporations who use fear mongering to keep you enslaved and them rich. They claim that universal medical insurance is socialist and thus evil. So going on that model, the police and fire departments, libraries, post office and public schools are all socialist. Medical care is a right not a luxury! I love Canada! Our government and our systems are not perfect but whose is? I only know our systems, especially our health system works a lot better then the American system.

  3. RossK says:

    Well, well, well….

    It would appear that the serial obfuscationists have decided to resurrect the Canadian Healthcare Hater’s Club story once again for fun and profit.

    After all, if their candidates can just make stuff up that is detrimental to any and all things that contribute to the public good why not them.

    Again.

    .

  4. Ian Bateson says:

    And the rich can protect for themselves some of the most sophisticated medical capability on the planet. A good piece Ian.

  5. Scotty on Denman says:

    I’ve often wondered why Republican propaganda featuring the Canadian public medical insurance system ( cue the theme from “Jaws”) isn’t immediately refuted by the Democrats. Why can’t the Democrats use the focus of their national convention to interview some Canadians, put paid to Republican lies about the Canadian medicare system, someone like Ian? There must be thousands of Canadians who could reveal a similar story of truth. Is it too much of a digression from the mainstream of American political rhetoric? Or does American-style electioneering condescend the electorates’ IQ?

    Maybe there’s a risk neo-right paranoiacs would theorize a Sino-Canadian conspiracy as the “real” reason American-style private medical insurance doesn’t work for every one; after all, some of them already think we’re communists up here; and we are trying to bid up the price of our bitumen by offering it to America’s newest strategic rival. From the sounds of it, American cancer clinics are full of old, white, rich Americans and a bunch of Canadian socialists. Take your pick: red menace or invisible hand.

    It seems to me every time the Republicans come up with this Canadian medicare nightmare hogwash is a perfect opportunity for Democrats to prove GOP lunacy.

  6. Myeva Surjik Fox says:

    Excellent piece. One objection- why are older white men’s prostate cancers somehow made synonymous with privilege? Unfortunately this lessens the really important impact of this article. Why the contempt for anyone undergoing cancer treatments? My white uncle with prostate cancer deserves the same respect as my black girlfriend with breast cancer. Period. By the way I’m Canadian and 100 percent pro our universal healthcare. Hopefully America will be inspired by it and not let fear mongers rule the day.

  7. RS says:

    Like Butch Cassidy said about the trackers following him and the Sundance Kid, “I couldn’t do that. Could you do that? Why can they do it? Who are those guys?

    http://www.newyorker.com/reporting/2010/08/30/100830fa_fact_mayer

    Thanks Ian

  8. e.a.f. says:

    I have always felt we in Canada were very fortunate to have the health system we do. As you mentioned, it isn’t perfect & sometimes we have to wait but we do get treatment & we don’t have to pay for it. In the U.S.A. they can’t even get the treatment if you don’t have the money. That is so sick. I am sure the Koch brothers like their fellow traveller, stevie slime would like to see the end of theCanadian medical system as we know it. Then Americans couldn’t point out, well Canada has a state organized medical system.

    What the republicans are doing is a form of murder & child abuse. Refusing to want to ensure children are given free medical treatment, is child abuse. Its sick. Refusing people medical coverage because of a pre existing conditions was murder because people couldn’t pay for the medical treatment & died.

    We ;will have to fight to maintain our current system but it will be worth it because if you dont’ have health, you don’t have anything.

  9. Ian says:

    Thanks for the comment. I may not have been clear in what I was saying about the use of proton radiation for prostate cancer patients. Proton radiation is considered a bit of overkill for this form of cancer, unless far advanced. It’s generally not the recommended treatment by doctors, but because you can buy just about any treatment for a price in the US, it is available to those who can part with a lot of money. And that tends to favour older, white males (I’m one!).

    If proton radiation were allocated according to medical need a more diverse patient group would get access – lower income earners, women and minorities would all get more access because while they have just as much incidence of brain, spinal and other cancers that require precisely targeted radiation, they have lower access because of income. When it comes to prostate cancer I believe the same principle should obtain – medical need trumps all.

  10. Ian says:

    Sandra, lovely to see your words on my site. Hi to Barry.

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  12. Robert Lynn says:

    Proton Beam Therapy is the 21st Century cutting edge treatment for prostate cancer as well as many others Ian. I had a Radical Prostatectomy surgery for prostate cancer in Kamloops in 2001 which failed. In 2009 after eight years of being told not to seek further treatment but to focus on quality of life I contacted Loma Linda University Medical Center and was accepted as a patient. There were approx. 150 – 160 patients undergoing Proton Therapy at the James M. Slater Proton Center during the period I was there of which the vast majority was being treated for Prostate Cancer and on a few like yourself for brain cancer. Of this group I would say that there were about ten patients who were not US citizens and all but one of the US citizens was was covered by private health insurance. If you did not have insurance Loma Linda did the treatment for cost which was $37,000 US if you had a Social Insurance Number. For foreign nationals such as the Canadians and Australians I met there the cost was $70,000. The Canadian medicare system does not pay for this treatment because there are alternative cheaper radiation treatments available in Canada. The difference is with Proton Radiation the cure rate is higher without side effects such as impotence, incontinence, and bowel problems which are common in Canada. So in Canada we save on the front end by going cheap and then spend money on the side effects for the remainder of the patients life who has to undergo needless misery.

    There are problems with the US healthcare system but there are greater problems with the Canadian medicare system. The Koch brothers commercial contain a lot more truth than this blog does about the state of the Canadian medicare system.

    If you have a serious healthcare problem you have to be aware that treatment in Canada is inferior if you need cutting edge treatment. It does not usually exist in Canada and never will under Medicare. There is no use arguing about which system is better as we all have our own opinions but the fact that the author went to Loma Linda should give you a big hint. My advice is to get an insured line of credit on your house if possible and use in the case of a catastrophic medical condition or accident. The waiting lists are appalling in Canada and will never be remedied as long as the government prevents private insurers from selling insurance.

    My neighbour waited five months after being diagnosed with brain cancer before receiving any treatment. He has since passed on.

  13. Wendy N says:

    Yes Canada has it better than the U.S. BUT I have pleaded for treatment in Canada for treatment and was denied. Brain Cancer-Glio-Blastoma Multiform Stage IV, was our fight. Avastin is the drug of choice to treat this Cancer, not to cure it but to slow down its progress. GBM is incurable. Avastin is an approved drug to treat GBM and will be funded until tumor changes show. Think about my last three sentences, funded to slow growth, incurable, tumor changes… THEN DENIED. My Husband who was a 46 year old warrior died. We were denied a drug that was originally given to us for the management of symptoms for GBM. Our system is better than most but is still riff with problems. Cancer is unfortunately a money game. The more money you have the more doors you will be allowed to open.

  14. e.a.f. says:

    Mr. Lynn may not know this but these are thousands of people living in B.C. who do not own a home & never will. They don’t have the money. Mr. Lynn’s solution is only for those who have access to money. If you don’t have money you don’t get any form of treatment. As he pointed out Americans without medical insurance had to pay more than $30K to obtain the treatment. Most Americans don’t have that kind of money, especially if they don’t have insurance. If you can’t afford insurance, you can’t afford medical treatment either.

    The reality is there are forms of accepted treatment in our provinces & that is what the government can/will pay.
    I guess when you look at things, do they spend a very large amount of money on one person who may or may not live or spend the money on things which can be dealt with. Its a very difficult situation. It reminds me of when I was a kid & St. Paul’s received its first kidney machine. At that time because of the few they had & the expense of purchasing them a committee was formed & reviewed the applications of those who required the use of them, with no names attached. It wasn’t nice but choices had to be made. Then of course the technology improved, costs came down & now people almost everyone can have one available to them for treatment.

    If we ever go with the American system it will simply be those who hve money get treatment the rest don’t.

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  16. Mike The Pirate says:

    I live in the U.S. Most of the people who live here are stupid (Think Sarah Palin). It’s that simple. If people were smarter here, we would have had universal health care here decades ago.

    If people were smarter here, they would realize that there is no perfect heath care system but Canada’s system is far better than ours — at half the cost. By the way, this woman in the story, Shona Holmes, is lying. She did not have a cancerous tumor. And we don’t know how hard she pushed to get treatment in Canada when her vision was failing. I can’t imagine she was turned away by the Canadian health care system when she was losing her sight. Just remember, she was paid handsomely for this t.v. ad spot I would bet. Also, in the U.S., around 20,000 people die each year simply because they are under insured or do not have health insurance. This does not happen with the Canadian system.

    Yes, it is brainwashing by corporate America, telling people universal heath care is bad. But only dolts believe it. Americans need to get smart, start voting Democratic and give the power back to the people.

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  18. Jim says:

    Holy smokes, what a crock. The saintly marxist compassionate mythology will keep on breeding and proliferating as long as the devil lives. Canada will steal my money and my children and grandchildren’s money to send Ian to an AMERICAN treatment facility. It obviously didn’t increase his gratitude and improve his attitude as evidenced by his demonization of America the mythical Koch Brothers. Where is the saintly holiness in this addiction to socialism? How compassionate is it to me and yours and my children and grandchildren who are not on the dole? Robin Hood theft justifies medicare? Sorry, that is childish utopian reasoning. Stop it Marxists, stop it progressives, stop it liberals, NDPers, socialists, maoists, trotskyites, and all other union thugs and wealth redistributors. Just stop stealing, and things will improve for all of us. Thank your for your time.

  19. Lee says:

    I’m a 61 (almost 62) year old, recently bankrupted, and have cancer. Mr. Koch (either one of you may answer)…which side of the border is more likely to see me living one year from now? Which side of the border would want me to have a reasonable quality of life? Which side of the border has governments willing help people find their feet and good health again, regardless of age and/or income? That’s what I thought.

    Do us all a favor – keep your attitude, and your filthy lucre on your own side of the border. Take your Fraser Institute buddies with you. Please.

  20. Ian says:

    Hi Jim, what exactly do you do in New Jersey?

  21. Jacqui Garcia says:

    Oh, Ian! Thank you for sharing your story! I truly hope ever single person who’s ever demonized Obama’s Affordable Healthcare Act will read it. At the very least, I hope the voting Democrats and Independents do!!! Blessings to you and your family! Thank you! Thank you! Thank you!

  22. Mea Johns says:

    Jim, you need to grow up. Your selfish little rant is embarrassing. It’s people like you who are causing the huge problems in this world. MY this and MY that and ME ME ME ME ME is all you can ever say. Your childish, immature, cruel “reasoning” belongs in kindergarten. And quit ranting about socialism; you don’t even know what the term means. Here’s a clue: the computer you’re typing on was created with SOCIALISM. The internet you are surfing was created by THE GOVERNMENT. The air you breathe, water you drink, food you eat are all certified by the government. If you want to have everything all to yourself, go live in Somalia. There’s no government there; sounds like the perfect place for someone as shallow as you.

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