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Scare Tactics the Standard for Anti-Healthcare Reform Ads

Gienna Shaw, for HealthLeaders Media, August 5, 2009

Americans are so afraid of the big, bad Canadian healthcare system that the threat of "Canadian-style healthcare" makes for a compelling anti-health reform message.

Even if it's not exactly true.

"I survived a brain tumor, but if I relied on my government for healthcare, I'd be dead." So says Canadian Shona Holmes in an anti-healthcare reform ad sponsored by the Washington, DC-based Patients for Prosperity Foundation.

Holmes chose to fly to the U.S., where she was treated at the Mayo Clinic for a tumor that, according to Mayo, could have caused her to go blind. But did the tumor threaten her life? That's not so clear.

(Mayo, which published a story about Holmes on its Web site, notes that their purpose in writing about her treatment was "to capture the essence of the care that she received while at Mayo in the hope that it might be helpful to others who are facing similar medical challenges." The article goes on to say that the story "is not related to the current national discussion on healthcare reform, or Mayo's role in that issue.")

In a man-on-the-street style interview by the non-profit Real News Network, Canadian citizens in Toronto reacted to the anti-reform ads that feature sad, sad stories of Canadians forced to wait for appointments with specialists and denied life-saving drugs because the government just doesn't care about them.

"I think it's totally shocking," one man says in the piece. "It doesn't reflect reality."

Most said the stories featured in the ads are not typical, though they admit that some people do fall through the cracks. "Those stories are probably true. But not everything is perfect with the healthcare [system]," another interviewee says.

Most Canadians, both said, are very happy with the socialized medical system.

The Ottawa Citizen also weighed in on the facts and fiction of comparisons between Canadian healthcare and proposed healthcare reform plans in the U.S. With the dry disdain for those in the states that is typical of the folks up north (including some pot-shots at Kentuckians in particular), the column also disputes Holmes' story as being typical.

"For a person living with cancer, the idea that someone's care could be unreasonably delayed is truly scary. It also doesn't reflect the experience I've had or the experiences that have been shared with me by so many other patients," writes columnist Julie Mason. She also provides evidence that wait times are much shorter than anti-reform ads suggest.

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