Thursday, July 23, 2009

Battle goes south of the border

By Catherine O'Hara, Review Staff

Shona Holmes has undergone medical treatments on both sides of the border. Now, U.S. lobbyists are shining a light on the Waterdown woman’s experience with the Canadian healthcare system to help put a halt to President Obama’s healthcare reform plan.

Holmes’s struggles with the Canadian healthcare system started back in 2005 when she suffered loss of vision. Appointments with local specialists could only be made months in advance.

As her vision steadily deteriorated, the Waterdown mom took matters into her own hands, making the trip to the Mayo Clinic in Scottsdale, Arizona where she was diagnosed with Rathke Cleft Cyst, a benign tumor pressing against her optic nerve.

“She was going blind,” said Holmes’s husband, David, who added that his wife’s underlying illness, Cushing’s disease, was also out of control at the time. Doctors at the Mayo Clinic alerted Holmes that if the Cushing’s disease wasn’t looked after soon, it would “kill her.”

“She would have been racing to her death,” stated the Waterdown man.

As a result of wait times in Ontario, Holmes and her family made the decision to seek treatment in Arizona, with procedures normally covered under Ontario’s Health Insurance Plan (OHIP).

Upon her return to Waterdown, Holmes’s claims for reimbursement for her medical expenses south of the border were rejected. The local resident, who spent nearly $100,000 on medical care in the States, has since been granted a new hearing, which is slated for the fall.

Holmes’s story makes the local family mediator the poster child for the American conservative movement in petitioning against President Obama’s healthcare plans. She has since been linked with the advocacy group, Americans for Prosperity Foundation, which opposes government involvement in health care.

Her plight with Canada’s healthcare system is now being broadcast across the United States through a national campaign ad aired in 50 states. She was also personally invited by the Committee of Energy and Commerce in Washington last month to share her story before lawmakers.

“She has the benefit of having had treatment on both sides of the border. She can speak, in that sense, of letting them know what’s happened on both sides,” said David, adding that his wife is only doing “a neighbourly thing” by advising top officials of the flaws associated with a government-run healthcare system.

“She says, ‘If you have a government-run healthcare system, it’s a slippery slope,’” said Holmes’s husband of her personal opinion.

“There is no doubt that the Americans need healthcare reform. We need healthcare reform in Canada, but the difference is that there is not a single politician (in Canada) that is talking about it. Shona is speaking.”

Wait times, noted David, are Canada’s healthcare system’s downfall. Local doctors are as talented as those south of the 49th parallel, he explained, but in Canada, “they just have their hands tied.”

“That’s the situation we have here.”

Ancaster-Dundas-Flamborough-Westdale MPP, Ted McMeekin, told the Review Tuesday that he is familiar with Holmes’s case and aware of the Waterdown resident’s views on Obama’s proposed healthcare reform.

“She obviously felt that she had a bad experience,” said McMeekin, adding that he could not comment further on the local woman’s case as it is under ongoing adjudication.

However, McMeekin did state that Canada’s healthcare system is often modeled in other countries. “Canada’s model is often lifted up as the model of healthcare,” said the MPP.

“There are millions of people who have no healthcare coverage (in the States). (Obama) is attempting, through legislation, which is before the House and the Senate as I understand it, to make some changes to hopefully...allow more people to receive health care.”

Currently in Washington and slated to return today (Friday), Holmes was invited to speak at a bloggers’ luncheon and tell her story before a group of Republicans. She has also been interviewed by a slew of U.S. media outlets, including Fox News and CNN.

According to David, Holmes has not received any financial contributions for her involvement in the campaign and in an email sent to friends and colleagues a few weeks ago, Holmes said: “I am getting out and getting involved, and learning more and more about health care and policy on both sides of the border,” an event she described as “interesting to say the least.”