Williams stirs medicare debate
N o one denies for a moment that Danny Williams is perfectly within his rights to seek out medical care wherever he chooses, paying for any expenses that aren’t covered by Canadian medicare and whatever health insurance he carries. And if he was just Danny Millions, self-made multi-millionaire and private citizen, there wouldn’t be much of a hook for public comment about his secretive sojourn to the United States for some sort of specialized cardiac surgery. All one could say is that rich people have more choices than others, which is hardly news.
But he’s not just Danny Millions anymore; he’s the premier of Newfoundland and Labrador, erstwhile defender of Canadian medicare and, politically speaking, the man most responsible for the state of public health care in his province.
That doesn’t rob him of his freedom as a private citizen but it does attach to his decision a public dimension which eventually he should, and likely will, address. Numerous commentators, recognizing that they might well do the same in his situation if they could also afford the choice, have taken the slant that he should have explained the situation more fully before he left or have authorized someone to do so.
That might have contained the reaction to some degree and dulled the value of the story as an object lesson in what’s wrong with the Canadian single-payer medicare system, as the hyperventilating bloggers – especially in the United States – are telling it. However, the firestorm would likely have roared through in much the same way, ignoring the details.
From initial reports, the best clue to Williams’s motivation appeared to come from Vickie Kaminski, head of Newfoundland’s largest health authority, who spoke about “some very new techniques that come on the market” for piloting and testing among “a small locus of people across North America.” So it seems this is not a question of wait time (that could be a secondary factor, for all we know) but of the availability of some highly specialized, cuttingedge technique that applied to Williams’s condition.
We can imagine Williams saying something like this: “I am confident that I would have received excellent treatment for my condition in Montreal (or Toronto or Calgary) but my doctors recommended this option if I could afford it, and since I could I followed their advice.”
New cardiac treatments are pioneered in the United States, as others are in Canada. Richer-funded (and thus higher-cost) U.S. medicine may well be quicker to adopt new treatments and techniques, though often only for those who can afford them and not always on grounds of proven medical efficacy. That does not make a compelling case against Canadian-style medicare if one is willing to recognize the advantages it bestows, such as universal access.
A U.S. Internet commentator remarked on the Williams story: “It must be pretty bad when even someone with his clout skips town for medical help.” Actually, there’s a lot to be said for a system where “clout” doesn’t help, even if it sometimes does in practice.