Canadian Shona Holmes joins the great American healthcare debate

"You got a lotta nerve
"To say you got a helping hand to lend
"You just want to be on
"The side that's winning"

—Bob Dylan, "Positively 4th Street"

By now you've all probably heard of Shona Holmes, the Canadian woman featured in those television ads that have been running all over American TV in recent weeks, the ones slamming Canada's healthcare system as some sort of nightmarish system from hell.

Well, the truth is now out and the fact is Shona Holmes never actually had a life-threatening brain tumor, as she's been claiming in those ads and interviews on American TV. Instead, according to the Mayo Clinic where she was treated, her "brain tumor" was actually a Rathke's Cleft Cyst on her pituitary gland and "Rathke's Cleft Cysts are not true tumors or neoplasms; instead they are benign cysts."

The real story, it seems, is that she was on a waiting list for treatment here in Canada for her non-life-threatening benign cyst, but didn't want to wait and therefore went to the States and paid for her own treatment instead. This is quite a different story from the one presented in those ads: a story about how the Canadian system was going to just let her die because it's such a flawed, awful, dangerous system.

All this is from a great article by Julie Mason that appeared earlier this week in the Ottawa Citizen.

Sadly, CBC's main news program, The National, covered this story last week, but somehow failed to mention (or perhaps failed to research enough to find out?) that Shona Holmes never actually had any life-threatening brain tumor—obviously the most important part of her story.

A Right-Wing Ad Campaign

Watch the ad here and listen as Holmes states that "I survived a brain tumor, but if I relied on my government for healthcare I'd be dead". This is simply not true. And Holmes, it should be noted, is not just some naive flake being used by a right-wing group to help spread their anti-healthcare reform message. She's actually an activist herself, one who has been all over the American media airwaves giving interviews about Canada's healthcare system.

Now there's no doubt that the wait times in this country can be unacceptable (and, since her cyst was starting to cause vision problems, Holmes definitely should not have had to wait months to see a specialist). However, the simple truth is that if a person has a life-threatening tumor in Canada they will be treated and not, as Holmes states, left to die.

Why she'd want to see nearly 50 million Americans left completely uninsured simply because she was unhappy with her treatment in Canada is beyond me.

Tellingly, if you listen to her talk she doesn't really seem to have much—or any—concern for the uninsured. Being wealthy enough to travel down to the Mayo Clinic for $97,000 private treatment, she seems to only be concerned with people like herself, those with money—the uninsured 50 million be damned.

Obama's Plan

Holmes' stated aim in appearing in these ads and interviews is to persuade Americans to stick with their current system and reject Obama's plan to cover everyone (a mighty flawed, non-single-payer system, I might add, but at least a noble attempt to finally cover everyone with some form of insurance).

This current system that Holmes so passionately wants America to retain is of course the very same horrifically unjust one—the only one in the industrialized world that doesn't cover all of its citizens—that the majority of Americans have wanted replaced for years.

Does Shona Holmes really think that millions of American children are better off with no medical insurance than with a system like that in Canada, no matter how much she may find it lacking?

Is she really that insensitive? Stupid? Self-absorbed?

Or does she, perhaps just like being on TV a lot?

Whatever the case, she sure comes across as a villain in all of this. A petty villain perhaps, but a villain nonetheless. Not so much to Canada and the Canadian healthcare system she's so intent on smearing with her less-than-honest tale of woe, but more so to the American public who she's hoping to condemn to the appalling status quo they presently call a healthcare system—and what the rest of the world calls a joke.

Yes, yes, of course if you're wealthy and/or you're lucky enough to have an insurance policy that actually covers you when you most need it (rather than challenges your claim and/or denies you certain treatments) then you will undoubtedly get some good care. But, seriously, who wants to live in a system in which losing your job also means losing your healthcare, as so many Americans have been finding out over the past year? Nearly 50 million citizens go without any coverage whatsoever and tens of millions more have inadequate, partial and/or tentative coverage at best. You call that a modern and just society?

"The Best System In The World"

Americans always want to believe they are the best at everything in the world and when it comes to certain things perhaps they are, but when it comes to their healthcare system the fact is they're the laughing stock of the world.

The rest of the industrialized world long, long ago accepted the basic truth that any modern, just and civilized society unequivocally must provide two fundamental things to all of its citizens: universal primary and secondary education and universal healthcare. Yet some 60 years onward America is still attempting to claw its way into the 1950s. That is, 60 years after everyone else America is still attempting to give all of its citizens these two most basic and fundamental of human rights.

And if people like Shona Holmes have their wish they never will.

For another excellent article on healthcare reform in America try this quite personal recent piece by Ted Kennedy, "The Cause of My Life".

Then there's this excellent piece by Roger J. Newell, an American who spent years living under both the "socialized" British and "free market" American systems and his take on both: "American health care: the view from expatriate who came home".

Finally, check out this piece by David Sirota about how the wealthy in America (including certain Democrats who Sirota calls "Land Rover Liberals") are doing all they can to defeat universal healthcare, at least as long as it involves them having to pay even a few thousand dollars more in taxes each year from their hoard of millions and/or billions.

Let's just hope America ignores the scaremongering of the likes of Shona Holmes and the greed and selfishness of so many of its own ultra-wealthy and decides to finally join the ranks of truly civilized nations.

Mike Cowie is a freelance writer who writes about politics, music, film, travel and much more. You can read more of Mike’s views on his Web site.



Joanna D.

Jul 28, 2009 at 7:28pm

Whether it was a tumor or a benign cyst makes little difference. Was it not after all Mayo Clinic that diagnosed Shona Holmes while the Canadian system failed to even diagnose her? We all have just one life to live and minimizing pain, suffering and general discomfort are what we all aim for. I will not be told that I need to take a number, sit back and wait, accepting that my otherwise treatable condition is going to hamper my daily life because of the type of health care system Canada is so proud of. Let's stop for a second, stop competing with the Americans and take a critical look at our system.
I refuse to believe that had you discovered some sort of growth in your brain you would calmly wait while the Canadian health care system put you in line to see a specialist.


Jul 28, 2009 at 7:40pm

I lived in US and Canada. US system may have its problems, but when it comes to treating something it is excellent. Some people I knew had no insurance and were ineligible for public assistance, but got treated for free anyway. They got funds from private sources. I think those stories of US people being left without treatment are exaggerated. Canadian health care system on the other hand is really bad. I was shocked when I first came to Canada from US. The waits, the quality of treatment, the availability of services are extremely poor. It might be free, but poor. I have seen these kind of things in the Soviet Union "let all be equal in being miserable".


Jul 28, 2009 at 9:37pm

Joanna D. is factually incorrect when she claims the "Canadian system failed to diagnose her."

She was diagnosed. And that diagnosis was her condition was not immediately threatening. The Mayo Clinic concurs.

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Jul 28, 2009 at 9:43pm

Joanna: No, it is not the Mayo clinic that diagnosed her. She had *already been* diagnosed, her doctors had already made the determination her condition was non life threatening... that's WHY she was on a wait list. If they thought her life was endangered she would have been given immediate treatment.

And MS: I get the strong impression that you're completely full of crap considering your testimony flies in the face of every serious objective comparative study of the Canadian and American health care systems ever performed.

Mike a Canadians view

Jul 28, 2009 at 10:14pm

I have been watching in the news here about your medical system. I can say without hesitation that the Canadian medical system is awesome!
I have through-out my life had many injuries and one life threatening incident. Every single time I was delt with in a timely and professional manner. I am here to talk about it.
My life-threatening issue involved a Gangrenous gall blader which was infecting my other organs. I was rushed to the hospital , they pumped me full of medicine and the next day after my temperature went down they operated on me. At the end of the day I was healthy and it did not cost me a penny. Yes I love our medicare system. Listen to the whole truth and nothing but the truth and you will find your way.
Thanks, good luck and god bless ,
Mike , a Canadian


Jul 28, 2009 at 10:32pm

I am an American who has been living in Canada for the past 5 years. The medical care I get here is of the same quality or better than what I had with good insurance plans in the US, and it's a whole lot cheaper. Wait times are about the same. Best of all, I don't have keep working year after year at a job I hate with people I hate simply because it's the only way to get health insurance since I have a pre-existing condition. I recently left my original employer and struck out on my own to follow a longtime dream I could never follow in the US primarily because of my need for health insurance. Canadians don't know how lucky they are.

As to that "free" care you get in the US if you turn up in extremis at the emergency rooms? It's not free. Someone has to pay and the hospital will try to make sure it's you. Sure, you can avoid paying if you don't mind losing your credit rating, and very young people without much to lose sometimes do that. But those of us who have accumulated property and reputation can't

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Kerry O'Grady

Jul 29, 2009 at 6:19am

My wife was diagnosed with lung cancer back in 2000. It was about 6 weeks from diagnosis to the operating table. She is doing very well today, been cancer free for 9 years. Thats my Canadian healthcare.

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Jul 29, 2009 at 9:04am

It's very simple. The State of Massachusetts has had mandatory healthcare for a few years now and if that is supposed to be an example then mandatory healthcare brings nothing but bad things.
Fines for people who can't afford it. Huge increases in expenditures.
According to documents after introducing mandatory healthcare in Massachusetts health care costs in the State have soared by 40%.
This year the fine is over $1,000 when someone is not insured.
Health care is overrated, doctors are overrated.

Proof in the Pudding

Jul 29, 2009 at 12:31pm

Any system you undertake is going to be as good or bad as you make it. Public health care in Canada works quite well because the people working in the system do their best to make it run smoothly, and everyone accepts the system and supports it.

The States, however, loves to make a big, ridiculous, political spectacle of EVERYTHING. Any attempt at a public system there will definitely fail because you will have too many hacks and blow-hards that don't actually know anything trying to dictate how the system should work. On top of that, you will have an equal number of blow-hards complaining about how bad things have become, no matter what the reality of the situation is, and trying to sabotage it for political gain. I love how health care in Canada is relatively politics-free beyond the question, "Spend more or spend less?"

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Jul 29, 2009 at 1:32pm

Hey Mike you forgot the part where she's suing OHIP, the Ontario government health plan, for the $100K she spent at the Mayo clinic. And then there's her lawsuit against OHIP saying the lack of an American type system in Canada is a violation of her Charter of Rights:

This lawsuit is "supported" (whatever that means) by the Canadian Constitution Foundation. Some of the folks on the board of the CCF (Tommy Douglas will get em for that one!) are from the Fraser Institute.

I'm waiting for surgery for a tumour. It's benign. What's wrong with waiting for it? I'd have to wait in the States if I lived there too. Shouldn't someone with life threatening illnesses go first?

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