By Arthur Weinreb Thursday, February 4, 2010
Earlier this week it was revealed that Newfoundland and Labrador Premier Danny Williams was going to the United States for heart surgery. Like most Canadian politicians, Williams is a big proponent of Canada’s socialized health care system.
The premier’s office has been tight lipped about exactly what is wrong with Williams and has only said that whatever treatment that he needs is not available in his home province.
Apparently his doctors advised him to head south of the border for a necessary operation. The medical establishment is furious, arguing that even if what the premier requires is not available in Newfoundland and Labrador, treatment is surely available somewhere else in Canada. And it probably is.
Danny Williams is not the first high profile Canadian politician to champion Canada’s healthcare system and then go to the U.S. when he’s the one who needs medical attention. And unless Barack Obama completely restructures the American system, he won’t be the last. When King Hussein of Jordan died and leaders around the world flew to Amman to pay their respects, then Canadian Prime Minister Jean Chrétien was one of the few not to attend. Chrétien was “skiing in British Columbia” and just had no way to get to Jordan. The region where the former PM was “skiing” was close to where the upcoming Winter Olympics are being held. But the Prime Minister of Canada, with his staff and private jets just couldn’t figure out how to get out of B.C. and go over to Jordan. Later on it was revealed that Chrétien hadn’t been skiing at all; he had been at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota. But Danny boy made a big mistake; you’re not supposed to let anyone know where you are when you leave the country for medical reasons. Whatever can be said about Williams, one thing is clear; he’s no Jean Chrétien.
Canada has at least achieved one of the pillars of its healthcare system – equal access. As the head of a Canadian province, Danny Williams has no greater access to the system than a homeless person does. The problem of course is that we are not supposed to have a two-tiered healthcare system. But we do have one as long as people like Williams have enough money to leave the country and pay for medical treatment outside of Canada. Williams’ money is the real reason that many people are upset. The Toronto Star best expressed this outrage among medicare defenders in their headline, “‘Danny Millions’ Williams heads south for heart surgery”. The premier is resented because the former millionaire businessman can afford to go to the United States and pay for treatment while other Canadians can’t afford it. Williams should do the patriotic thing and sacrifice his life on a waiting list.
Canada’s one-tier healthcare system has always been a sham. Government run healthcare only covers services in a province that the provincial government deems medically necessary. When a province wants to cut expenditures, as Ontario did a couple of years ago, they simply delist certain procedures. What was medically necessary one day becomes medically unnecessary the next, forcing people to pay for treatment. The governments that praise the so-called one tier system don’t see anything wrong with that.
Canada is huge geographically but most of its 33 million people live in the south. Canada’s three major cities, Montreal, Toronto and Vancouver are less than a two hour drive from the American border. Canadians who can afford it and want better or at least quicker medical treatment often go to the United States. This only becomes a problem when a high profile person like Danny Williams lets it leak out that he’s having surgery in the United States.
Williams’ southern excursion is especially newsworthy in the United States where opponents of Obamacare have been handed another argument against those who favour a Canadian-style healthcare system. But in Canada, despite the whining and complaining, what Danny Williams did was not unique or extraordinary; we just prefer to keep the practice hidden.
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