Thursday, August 27, 2009

Why Aren't the Newspapers Covering This Story?

A report released yesterday, entitled Cellphone and Brain Tumors - 15 Reasons for Concern, concludes that there is a significant risk of brain tumors arising from cellphone use. Compiled by doctors and scientists, its conclusions are derived from scientific findings from a variety of studies that have been conducted, including one funded by the telecommunications industry which, to no one's surprise, found no elevated risk. As this report points out, the telecom-funded study has design flaws that skewed the results to show no danger.

It is sad to note that thus far, despite the fact that the report has been sent to governments and the media, no newspapers have reported the findings. One can't help but wonder whether the fact that cellphone companies advertise heavily in newspapers could be a factor in this failure to report.

I am providing a link to the pdf file for anyone interested in reading the report, which should spur all of us to be much more careful in our use of these mobile devices.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Shona Holmes on the Michael Coren Show

The other day a friend of mine alerted me to the fact that Shona Holmes was going to be making an appearance on the Michael Coren Show, and despite the fact that I tried to view it with an open mind, I can honestly say that it had very little impact on my overall impressions of the woman and her mission.

Ms. Holmes insists that her life was indeed threatened by her condition, explaining that an abridged version of her “complex medical issues” appeared on the Mayo Clinic website because of some kind of restriction on what could be written there. She offered some convoluted explanation of what she continues to assert was a brain tumour encapsulated within a cyst. While I am at least now willing to grant the possibility of her having had a more serious condition than was indicated on the Clinic website, I feel no more kindly disposed to her ‘mission’ than I did from the outset for a number of reasons.

First, she deplored the fact that a polarization occurs whenever Canadian and American healthcare systems are compared. Insisting that the American ad she made has succeeded in generating debate, she is being either disingenuous or obtuse in refusing to recognize that her ad increases that polarization, speaking, as it does, in absolutes, (e.g., “Government healthcare is not the answer, and it certainly isn’t free”) abetted by the voiceover advising viewers of the great suffering that ensues in Canada where people must wait an unconscionable length of time “for vital surgeries.” When asked by the host whether she felt that the ad was unfair to our system, she insisted that it wasn’t, and would do it again “in a heartbeat.”

In response to Coren’s question about the possibility that she was one of those few people who might have ‘fallen through the cracks” and that our system works pretty well, she declaimed that untold thousands were experiencing similar treatment, and that her efforts in suing the government and trying to force in private insurance are not for herself, but for her neighbours, grandchildren, and fellow citizens. I was disappointed that Mr. Coren did not ask her for statistical evidence to support her claims. Without that support, I cannot escape the notion that her efforts spring more from self-interest than any kind of altruism.

As well, while agreeing with the host that the American system needs reform, she went on to suggest that the majority of Americans are happy with their health insurance, again without statistical support, and questioned the actual number of Americans without insurance, dismissing the majority as illegal immigrants and young people who choose not to have any because they don’t think they need it. Hmm, I wonder if the exorbitant costs of acquiring insurance could be a factor in their decision?

Ms. Holmes also seems to lack insight into why the Canadian people are so furious with her, expressing her disappointment in the discovery that one can’t hold an opposing opinion without being reviled, threatened, etc. What she fails to understand is that people are so upset by her utter arrogance in assuming the role of spokesperson for a healthcare system that all polls suggest enjoys the unqualified support of over 87% of Canadians.

Until Ms. Holmes can begin to see herself as others see her, I suspect she can look forward to continued expressions of ill-will from her fellow Canadians.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

More on U.S. Healthcare

The Hamilton Spectator had a well-considered article in yesterday's edition written by a Canadian resident who has lived in the United States and experienced their healthcare system. His comparison between our system and the American one makes for some fascinating reading:

Beware the right in health-care fight

Is movement to privatize Ontario's system behind Holmes' battle?

August 19, 2009
John Kneeland

(Aug 19, 2009)

In 1996, through my employer in Sarasota, Fla., I had medical insurance from Blue Cross Blue Shield. Doctors on my short list seemed capable, but I saw them only for basic medical procedures.

Wondering what personal health insurance would cost me now in Florida, I applied online for a quote from Blue Cross Blue Shield. For a man my age (58), the monthly premium was $418.

Copayments for office visits were $20 to $40, with 20 per cent co-insurance (my share of treatment costs for major medical procedures), and a $500 deductible. Perusing the list of exclusions, I noticed a 24-month wait for treatment involving pre-existing conditions.

I called the company and told the insurance specialist I had received laser treatment in Canada for a minor prostate cancer. "Oh," he said, "You'll be declined. There's a 10-year block on any form of cancer." This is a predicament Americans are well acquainted with; more than half of the bankruptcies in the U.S. are due to medical expenses.

In Ontario in the past year, I have received -- besides cancer treatment -- MRIs, blood tests, dermatological treatments and my biennial checkup. I paid for one PSA test. Wait times were insignificant.

In fact, wait times, which were actually worsened in the past by Conservative-inspired tax cuts, have improved in recent years in both Ontario and Quebec. In a 2008 Health Canada study, patients' self-reported median wait times for MRIs and CAT scans were two weeks. Median wait time for a specialist or surgery was a little over four weeks. Most patients waited a maximum of three months.

Currently in the news is Shona Holmes' lawsuit against the Ontario government, which states, "Wait times in the government monopoly health care system are unreasonable and unacceptable by ... medical standards of practice." The suit claims this is a violation of Charter rights.

Holmes had a benign cyst called a Rathke Cleft cyst, which is not life-threatening but can cause blindness in rare cases. On May 27, 2009, Holmes was interviewed by Fox News. She claimed she was suffering from a brain tumour, but could get no medical help in Canada. "I'm just one story," she said. "There's so many out there like me." Holmes told the interviewer that her American friends had advised getting another doctor, then claimed, "that is something we are just not allowed to do here in Canada."

After going on her own to the Mayo Clinic in Arizona and having the cyst removed at a cost of $97,000, Holmes asked for reimbursement from Ontario. The government refused on grounds she did not follow proper procedures.

Holmes' story of distress is compelling; what's questionable is her decision to tell only one side of the story on national television. And her lawsuit, which was prepared by Avril Allen of Boghosian and Associates, goes beyond personal grievances.
Allen sits on an advisory committee to the Canadian Constitution Foundation (CCF), which is funding the lawsuit. CCF describes itself as "a registered charity, independent and nonpartisan ... a voice for freedom in Canada's courtrooms and law schools." Executive director John Carpay, a former Reform Party candidate, has announced the group is funding a constitutional challenge to Alberta's medicare system.

Other CCF advisers have included Ezra Levant, an ultraconservative activist and publisher of the Western Standard ( One of CCF's donors is the Donner Canadian Foundation, which an article in the Western Standard called "the lifeblood of conservative research in this country." Another donor is Atlas Economic Research, whose former president, John Blundell, said his mission was to "litter the world with free-market think- tanks."

When the Supreme Court of Canada decided Quebec could not place an outright ban on a parallel private system of health care, the court majority stated a ban on private insurance "might be constitutional in circumstances where health care services are reasonable as to both quality and timeliness." Accordingly, the Holmes suit is based on a claim that Ontario's services are not timely.

On its website, CCF describes Ontario's "unconstitutional legislative monopoly on health care." In other words, its goal is to bring privatization into the Canadian system.

According to the Romanow report of 2002, privatization, with its unnecessary administrative costs, is both inefficient and a drain on system resources. Dr. Arnold S. Relman, a Harvard professor of medicine and emeritus editor-in-chief of New England Journal of Medicine, states, "The facts are that no one has ever shown, in fair, accurate comparisons, that for-profit makes for greater efficiency or better quality, and certainly have never shown that it services the public interest any better."

Because CCF has charitable status, contributions to it are tax-deductible, which means taxpayers at large are subsidizing its attempts to undermine our single-tier health-care system. That is truly a health care travesty.
Burlington resident John Kneeland was born in the U.S. to Canadian parents. He has lived about half his life in each country.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Shame on the Brampton Separate School Board and St. Edmund Campion Secondary School

I just read in the Toronto Star that as a result of one parent complaining about language, the principal of St Edmund Campion Secondary School, Kevin McGuire, is removing To Kill a Mockingbird from its Grade 10 curriculum.

Having taught the novel many times, I can certainly attest to the fact that the ‘n’ word is used several times. Does that mean it is not fit to be in our schools? Of course not, given that the word, indeed the entire novel, is a lesson in the evil of racism and the ignorance that promotes it.

To me, the decision by the principal is yet another of a long list of examples of how schools are now in the hands of politicians who care more about career advancement than they do about the students whose instructional welfare they are charged with.

No word yet on what book will serve as the novel’s replacement.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

More on Right-Wing Scare Tactics

John Ibbitson had an interesting piece in today's Globe on the tactics being used by foes of healthcare reform to inspire terror in the ignorant:

Opponents of health-care reform stoking fears

Citizens argue healthcare reform proposals on August 8, 2009 in Brighton, Colorado.

Shock jock Rush Limbaugh compares the White House's health office logo to a swastika and President Barack Obama to Adolf Hitler

John Ibbitson

Last updated on Tuesday, Aug. 11, 2009 02:41AM EDT

Barack Obama and the congressional Democrats are neo-Nazis who want to create “death panels” that will euthanize older citizens.

Or so some very prominent opponents of health care reform would have Americans believe. In what may mark a new low in political discourse, conservatives leaders, including some Republicans, are urging voters to pack town halls to show their displeasure with the Democrats' plan to reform America's broken health care-system. Others are spamming the Internet with distortions and outright lies.

In the process, they may have successfully wrested control of the debate over health care away from the Democrats, turning a narrative about expanding coverage while controlling costs into one about a socialistic undermining of core American values.

The Web is at the centre of the campaign to block the Democrats' proposed legislation. Just as President Barack Obama used the tools of social networking, such as Facebook and YouTube, to generate excitement and organizational support for his campaign, so too conservative organizations such as FreedomWorks and Conservatives for Patients' Rights are effectively generating anger and organization to oppose health-care reform.

At town halls across the country crowds are booing and shouting down Democratic congressmen trying to explain the legislation. As a result, many Democrats are putting off public forums, meeting voters instead in smaller groups.

The Democratic leadership has condemned the tactics.

“These disruptions are occurring because opponents are afraid not just of differing views—but of the facts themselves,” said House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Majority Leader Steny Hoyer in an op-ed Monday in USA Today. “Drowning out opposing views is simply un-American.”

House Minority John Boehner said the Republicans have nothing to apologize for.

“To label Americans who are expressing vocal opposition to the Democrats' plan ‘un-American' is outrageous and reprehensible,” he said in a message to supporters.

But the leadership of the Republican Party seems to believe that any statement, no matter how outrageous, is justified in the cause of killing health-care reform.

Former Alaska governor Sarah Palin posted a message on her Facebook page Friday warning that seniors would be compelled to “stand in front of Obama's ‘death panel' so his bureaucrats can decide, based on a subjective judgment of their ‘level of productivity in society,' whether they are worthy of health care.”

She called this “downright evil” and it would be, except it is also complete fiction. Under the new plan, Medicare would pay for consultations between doctors and patients on end-of-life protocols—living wills, do-not-resuscitate orders, and the like. Any such consultation is purely voluntary.

That hasn't kept shock jock Rush Limbaugh from comparing the White House's health office logo to a swastika and Mr. Obama to Adolf Hitler.

Now what are the similarities between the Democratic Party of today and the Nazi party in Germany?” he asked his listeners last week. “Well, the Nazis were against big business … they were insanely, irrationally against pollution. They were for two years' mandatory voluntary service to Germany. They had a whole bunch of make-work projects to keep people working.” It was, apparently, like that all last week.

President Obama predicted Monday “that once we get into the fall and people look at the actual legislation that's being proposed, that more sensible and reasoned arguments will emerge, and we're going to get this passed.” He faces a town hall of his own in Portsmouth, N.H. Tuesday.

In the meantime, the White House has created a website dedicated to dispelling false claims about the health-care proposals. The Obama campaign employed a similar tactic to rebut false claims about the candidate—he's a Muslim, he consorts with terrorists, that sort of thing—during the election campaign.

For whatever reason, Ms. Palin has toned down her language. Her website Monday urged “civil discourse,” adding: “Let's not give the proponents of nationalized health care any reason to criticize us.”

But the situation is clearly confusing voters, and polarizing debate along lines of race, region and income.

A USA Today/Gallup poll released Monday reported that two-thirds of African Americans and six in 10 Latinos believe the biggest priority for reform should be expanding coverage, while six in 10 whites said reform should focus on controlling costs.

Westerners prefer expanded coverage; Southerners prefer controlling costs, while fewer than half of all seniors want to see any reform this year at all.

The Democrats may yet be able to pull everything together when Congress resumes in the fall. But generating fear-based schisms is an effective technique in undermining efforts at reform.

Monday, August 10, 2009

A Canadian Living in the U.S. Offers Her View of American Healthcare

Our local paper printed an article written by a Canadian currently living in Nevada, offering some of the facts about a system where people's care is decided by the level of their insurance coverage and the company's cost calculations. While the American right-wing is trying to terrorize the public with fantasies about government bureaucrats deciding who will live or die, the fact is that health insurance companies are making those decisions on a daily basis.

Insurance firms run U.S. health care

Co-payments, spotty coverage, sky-high premiums if you're already ill

August 10, 2009
Jane Carnahan Khaldy

(Aug 10, 2009)
I am a Canadian citizen who has lived in the United States since 1989. The U.S. has been very good to me, but don't get me started on health care.

The changes to the current system proposed by the Barack Obama administration are being criticized as being too much like the Canadian system due to the fact that government would control our health-care system. Currently in the United States, it is insurance companies that have this power, and that is my issue. Here is a snapshot of my experiences with American health care.

My husband died of lung cancer in September 2006. In July 2006, his insurance coverage with COBRA (a government-mandated continuation of health-care coverage at group rates in the event one loses employment) ended. Due to the government regulation on "qualifying events" (events that change your eligibility for health insurance coverage), I was able to obtain coverage with my work insurance. However, my husband's oncologist was not covered under my plan, and during the last 30 days of his life, he had to endure a 40-minute commute to begin all over again with a new doctor. We could have avoided all this if we obtained a divorce, which also would have been a "qualifying event." We chose not to do that.

In July 2007, I was diagnosed with breast cancer. Here are just a few salient events in my health-care saga:

The chemotherapy lowered my white blood-cell count to dangerous levels and thus, I needed a shot called Neupogen. One day, I was in danger of being admitted to the hospital due to the low white blood-cell count. As the oncology nurse prepared the needle for an injection of Neupogen, the office manager rushed in, stopped the procedure, and told me it would cost me $4,500 if administered in the office and that the shot had to be shipped to me and self-administered.

When my surgeon determined that I needed a mastectomy, he ordered a routine breast MRI prior to the operation. However, my insurance company denied the procedure four times before finally agreeing. The cost of the MRI was simply too high for them to confirm.

On my final day of chemotherapy -- January 25, 2008 -- as I waited in the exam room, a staff member came in and advised that my chemotherapy was no longer covered by my insurance and if I wanted it that day, the cost would be approximately $5,000. Finally, after several hours, the doctor was compassionate and granted it. To this day, I do not know who paid for it.

In 2008, I spent approximately $10,000 in out-of-pocket monies for health-care co-payments and noncovered treatments.

My story is only one of many. My friend Patty, 56, will lose her insurance in December as her COBRA will have ended and she is not employed.

An individual policy will cost her $1,200 a month because she has a "pre-existing condition" -- breast cancer. She is too young for the medicare system that provides covered health care for those over 65.

I just took out an individual policy for my 15-year-old daughter, and the cost is $93 a month, which is cost-effective enough. However, in order for her to receive the insurance, I was advised not to mention she had recently had a sore throat, as that would raise the premium.

The policy also carries a $1,500 deductible and, of course, office visits, lab tests etc. have co-payments which start at $25 per visit and go up from there.

During the previous bout of sore throat six months ago, her then-doctor wanted to perform a rapid strep-throat test to determine the appropriate treatment, but my insurance company would not cover this five-second test.

So the doctor was forced to prescribe antibiotics as a precaution, which the insurance company would pay for. They wouldn't pay for the test to correctly diagnose the problem but would pay for drugs that might not be needed.

In summary, I feel that government intervention in U.S. health care would vastly improve the situation and create an America where no one who needs health care will be denied, including those with pre-existing conditions.

Jane Carnahan Khaldy, a graduate of McMaster University, was born and raised in Dundas and is currently a resident of Henderson, Nev.

Saturday, August 8, 2009

American Healthcare 'Debate'

I just read an interesting article in the N.Y. Times about the so-called debate that is going on in the United States over reform to their healthcare system. Unfortunately, it seems that the word 'debate' is a misnomer as many Americans allow themselves to be whipped up into a frenzy by the right wing to disrupt town hall meetings being hosted by Democrats. I have always found it ironic that in many situations, the very people who would most benefit from a progressive measure are, with the right amount of manipulation, the ones who are most strident in their opposition.

Although I don't expect them to follow Robert's Rules of Order, it is a shame that they don't understand that shouting, name-calling, and physical confrontation do not constitute an informed exchange of views. But then again, when has the extreme right-wing ever relied on reason over demagoguery?

Click here for the article.

Saturday, August 1, 2009

More Shona, More of the Time

Sorry folks. Everytime I read a story about this benighted soul, I can't resist posting as long as the comments are not defamatory. The C.B.C website had an interesting article that suggests Waterdown's indefatigable foe of public health care may be being less than completely accurate in reciting her tale of woe. I have put in bold certain parts for emphasis.

Anti-medicare ad an exaggeration: experts
Last Updated: Friday, July 31, 2009 | 8:20 AM ET Comments414Recommend142
CBC News

A U.S. ad featuring an Ontario woman who spoke out against the Canadian health-care system may be exaggerating the severity of her condition, say medical experts.
Canadian experts say that had Shona Holmes's case been deemed an emergency, she would have received care in Canada within days.Canadian experts say that had Shona Holmes's case been deemed an emergency, she would have received care in Canada within days. (CBC)

Shona Holmes has appeared in U.S. ads saying she had to go to the Mayo Clinic in Arizona to be treated for a rare type of cyst at the base of her brain — a Rathke's cleft cyst. She mortgaged her home and paid $100,000 to be treated there because getting care in Canada involved a six-month wait, she said. She is currently suing OHIP to recoup those costs.

Holmes, from Waterdown, Ont., said she would have died had she relied on the Canadian health-care system and waited to see a specialist.

But the director of the brain tumour research centre at the Montreal Neurological Institute says he thinks that claim is "an exaggeration."

Dr. Rolando Del Maestro says the lesion Holmes was diagnosed with is benign, and usually slow-growing. It typically does not require urgent attention, he said.

"If it's a real emergency in the sense that the patient's visual function is getting substantially worse, the patients would be brought in immediately and would be operated on the next day," he said.

In 2005, Holmes, complaining of headaches and vision loss, went to see a Canadian doctor and was put on a six-month waiting list to see specialist.

After trying unsuccessfully to expedite the process, she was diagnosed and treated at the Mayo Clinic. Holmes said U.S. doctors considered the cyst a tumour, and that it would cause death if not removed immediately.

But neurosurgeon Michael Schwartz of Toronto's Sunnybrook Hospital says he's never seen or heard of a death from a Rathke's cyst. He told CBC News symptoms can be alleviated if the cyst is drained or part of it removed to take pressure off the optic nerve. "Then the person's vision almost always improves.

"If somebody called me about a patient that was losing her vision or had a structural abnormality of the brain I would see them within days."

Opposition to Obama

The contentious advertisement is being run by a conservative lobby group, the Americans for Prosperity Foundation, opposed to U.S. President Barack Obama's plan to involve the government playing a role in reforming U.S. health care.

It warns that Washington wants to bring in Canadian-style health care that would cause "deadly" delays for people waiting for important medical procedures.

Holmes denies taking any money from Americans for Prosperity for her message. Her publicist, paid for by the lobby group, says she's now declining interviews.

But Holmes told CBC News in an earlier interview she believes Canadians are not speaking up about the problems in the health-care system. She said that every time she thinks about stopping her criticism of the system, she gets "another really sad phone call or desperate phone call of somebody who is tragically trying to get treatment in Canada and can't."

Americans for Prosperity says it has spent nearly $1.8 million US running the ad in Washington, D.C., and 11 states with key senators who are either writing health-care bills or wavering on the issue.

It is one of a handful of commercials that are expected to grow in number and criticism this summer as detailed health bills emerge from the U.S. Congress and dozens of interest groups, companies and labour unions tussle to influence legislators.

Through June 27, $31 million has been spent for roughly 47,000 TV ads on health care this year, says Evan Tracey, president of the Campaign Media Analysis Group, a firm that tracks issue advertising.

So far, Tracey said about $15 million has been spent on ads favouring the Democrats' push to revamp the health-care system and $4 million to oppose it. Another $12 million has gone to ads generally favouring better health care, nearly all of it from the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America, representing drug makers, which hopes its market will expand if more people have insurance.

Tracey estimated that $250 million will ultimately be spent on the campaign this year.
With files from The Associated Press