Canadian doctor holds her own at Senate subcommittee on socialized medicine

Matthew Coutts
Daily Brew

A Toronto doctor called to Washington this week to provide a U.S. subcommittee with insight into alternative forms of health care ended up sparring with a Republican Senator has he painted Canada's public system as a death sentence.

And it’s fair to say she held her own.

Dr. Danielle Martin, the vice-president of medical affairs at Toronto's Women's College Hospital, was forced to dodge snide remarks and respond with some of her own as anti-Obamacare Sen. Richard Burr insinuated that Canadians forced to wait for surgery were more prone to death than Americans without health insurance.

“On average, how many Canadian patients on a waiting list die each year? Do you know?” Burr asked Martin during a committee session on Tuesday.

"I don't, sir. But I know there are 45,000 in America who die while waiting because they don't have insurance at all," Martin answered.

The Senator's retort to that comment should give all Canadians something to think about. Burr said all uninsured Americans have access to healthcare through something "called the emergency room." Which is apparently a new phenomenon that hasn’t made it up to Canada just yet? Perhaps we should invest in this witchcraft.

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Martin's appearance in Washington came as part of a U.S. subcommittee hearing on primary health and aging, which asked "What the U.S. Health Care System Can Learn from Other Countries."

She appeared alongside health care experts from Taiwan and Denmark, as well as various U.S. authorities.

And it sure didn't start off hostile.

"The United States is not the only country on earth. There are other countries that are doing some very positive and interesting things and we should be learning from them," Sen. Bernie Sanders said to begin the session, which aired on C-Span.

"This hearing ... is to see what we can learn from other countries around the world in terms of health care. In my view, we have a whole lot to learn."

Republican Senator Richard Burr, an opponent of President Barack Obama's health care program, had other thoughts on what the tone of the meeting should be, directing much of his attention on Canada’s universal healthcare system.

"Why are doctors exiting the public system in Canada?" he asked at one point.

"If I didn't express myself in a way that made myself understood, I apologize,” Martin responded calmly. "There are no doctors exiting the public system in Canada. In fact, we see a net influx of physicians from the United States into the Canadian system over the last number of years."

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Next, Burr raised the issue of former Newfoundland premier Danny Williams, who travelled to Florida for heart surgery in 2010.

"What do you say to an elected official who goes to Florida and not the Canadian system to have a heart valve replaced?" he asked.

Martin noted that the pioneers of that surgery were located in Toronto, and they have the best outcomes in the world.

"Sometimes people have a perception, and I believe this is fueled in part by media discourse, that going to where you pay more for something, that that necessarily makes it better. But that is not actually borne out by the evidence on outcomes."

Martin later noted on Twitter that her taste of senate politics made "the House of Commons look tame."

A taste of senate politics for a Canadian doc - makes the House of Commons look tame:

— Danielle Martin (@docdanielle) March 11, 2014

She later pointed to an article that reported an estimated 18,314 Americans between the ages of 18 and 64 die annually because of a lack of health insurance, noting that the United States was the only industrialized nation that did not provide health coverage to all of its citizens.

Yes, but they have emergency rooms. So... problem solved?

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