I visited Newfoundland once. Spent a few days in Corner Brook on the northern coast. It’s a lovely place.
I also used to be a contributing editor, on a freelance basis, for Cardiology World News. That’s a trade magazine supported by companies that want to market stents, statins and other heart-care products to cardiologists.
So, I feel qualified to comment on a raging international debate that made it to our newsroom this past week in the form of a press release. Well, at least I’m as qualified as many who have joined the debate.
It seems that Newfoundland Premier Danny Williams — a premier in a Canadian province is similar to a governor in the states — needed heart surgery and elected to have it done at an unnamed medical center in the United States.
If the 60-year-old premier had been diagnosed with his heart condition earlier in life — let’s say at age 58 when health care wasn’t such a firebrand topic in the lower forty-eight — his trip to the United States for surgery likely would have gone unnoticed south of the pine-covered hills and valleys of Newfoundland and Labrador.
We certainly wouldn’t have received a press release on the premier’s health decisions from U.S. Rep. Connie Mack, R-Cape Coral.
The release — received this past Wednesday — was essentially an open letter from Mack to President Barack Obama.
It carried this headline:
“Mack to Obama: Even Canadians reject nationalized health care”
The subhead read:
“Canadian official comes to U.S. for health care”
Here’s the letter:
“Dear Mr. President:
“I have attached a letter that I received today which indicates that the Newfoundland Premier Danny Williams is coming to the United States for heart surgery later this week.
“The Canadian health-care system is a failure. And the plan to model our system after the Canadian system is wrong.
“If the Canadian premier does not have confidence in the government-run health-care system, why should the American people? Mr. President, it is time to start over and reject government-run health care.”
The premier had his surgery Thursday and all went well, though he was in the intensive care unit on Friday. That’s routine. Described by the Canadian press as a workaholic, Williams expects to be back on the job sometime in March.
But, according to stories in Canadian newspapers, what really ails Williams post-surgery is that he’s become “the poster boy” for the health-care debate in the United States.
It has also bothered Canadian physicians, politicians and regular Joes. They bristle that some of us south of the border are claiming Canada’s health system is a failure. They argue that Williams’ decision can’t be used to make a case for or against adopting such a government program as Mack has done.
Here’s where my limited expertise comes in. Newfoundland — an island province with about the same number of people as the Naples and Fort Myers metro areas combined — is not a backwater, but it’s not Toronto, Montreal or Boston, either. It has hospitals that offer a number of heart procedures, but the surgery recommended for Williams was not one of them, according to the premier’s publicist. Transplants and congenital heart defects require specialization offered in major urban areas. There are just not enough cases in Newfoundland to develop the protocols or expertise needed.
So, Williams had to go outside his home province for the procedure. That leaves the question of whether he went outside Canada due to some lack of expertise or the availability of a hospital bed and a surgical team caused directly by the Canadian Medicare system.
We won’t know the answer to that unless Williams is irked enough to give full details of his condition to combat being singled out as an example of a failed health-care system.
It will be interesting.
It could be that the procedure needed was so unusual that it’s not performed in Canada at all. For instance, there’s a condition that requires the repair of a rare aneurysm in the aorta, a Canadian newspaper reported. If that’s what’s plaguing you, there’s really only one place to go: Baylor University Hospital in Texas. And, that’s not because of the differences in the American and the Canadian health-care systems.
Phil Lewis is editor of the Daily News. His e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org.