corporate and think-tank researcher

Donald Gutstein

17 Nov '04

A Sun Columnist’s Change of Heart

The Vancouver Sun’s Don Cayo’s first heart attack was treated in Florida and he trashed the care he might have received here. Now he’s changed his tune.

Sometimes it takes a life-threatening situation to make someone see the truth – Medicare works. That’s apparently what happened to Vancouver Sun columnist Don Cayo, judging from the two articles he wrote about his own health situation.

On Monday November 8, Cayo described a responsive and effective Medicare system as he detailed his recent heart problems.

Chest and jaw pain led him to report immediately to St. Paul’s Hospital where he was diagnosed with “unstable angina.” He “was leap-frogged almost to the top of the list for an angiogram to show if my cardiac arteries were clogged. The doctor found a 90-percent blockage in one key artery and she did an angiogram on the spot.”

Sounds like Cayo received pretty good treatment and was satisfied with it.

That’s not how he felt about Medicare several years ago when he took the occasion of his first heart attack to slag the public health system.

Cayo would be expected to slag Medicare. For two years before moving to Vancouver he headed the Atlantic Institute for Market Studies, the Fraser Institute’s little brother in Halifax, and he remains on the AIMS advisory board. Pushing for private health care is an AIMS priority, as it is for the Fraser Institute.

Reliable sources?

Cayo suffered a heart attack while he was on assignment on the island of Haiti and was flown to Florida where doctors performed an angiogram and angioplasty before sending him on his way. He wrote a 4,000-word piece on his experience, comparing his treatment in Florida with what might have happened to him if his heart attack had occurred in Vancouver and he had been sent to St. Paul’s.

In Florida it took only five hours from the time the plane set down until both procedures were done; in Vancouver he might have waited weeks and weeks and he might even have died.

Cayo knew this because three sources told him so.

The first was the husband of an emergency nurse.

The second were statistics compiled by the BC Medical Association, the provincial government and the independent (his term) Fraser Institute about waiting times for elective surgery (as if a heart attack warrants elective surgery).

The third was David Gratzer, a newly graduated doctor who has been well funded by the Donner Canadian Foundation and promoted in the Black-Asper press for his anti-Medicare views. In Cayo’s account, Gratzer compared the Canadian health-care system to the “old Soviet Union. They lined up for toilet paper; we line up for heart operations or cancer care.” Cayo apparently found this comparison edifying.

43 million uninsured

Cayo then asks what might be the “cost to me personally (and thousands like me) to be kept in pain — a vice gripping my chest and growing worse if I worry about it or move too fast? Or the mental anguish for me and my family and friends if we’d been left to fret about potential death or disability? Would my condition have got worse — more debilitating or harder to treat — while I waited? Might I have died?” he asks rhetorically.

Cayo ends on a conciliatory note: “To be fair, few die in Canada while waiting for care — though it is my heartfelt belief that even one is too many.” But he should have thought more carefully about his experience in Florida. He received Cadillac treatment for one reason only: the health-care insurance held by his employer was adequate to cover all the costs.

What if Cayo had a heart attack and was one of the 43 million Americans without health insurance? He expressed no thought for them.

Cayo’s experience with the Canadian system sounds every bit as good as the one in Florida. And you know what? Every Canadian can get the same treatment as Cayo.

God bless Medicare.

First published in The Tyee

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