Canadian Premier comes to US for heart surgery

The Premier for Newfoundland, one of Canada’s eastern provinces, underwent heart surgery last week.  Where do you suppose Premier Danny Williams went for his surgery?  To a hospital in St. John’s, the capital city of Newfoundland?  Nope.  Perhaps he travelled to a larger Canadian metropolis, such as Toronto or Montreal?  Guess again.  Actually, the premier chose to have his cardiac repair performed not anywhere in his own country.  Like so many of his fellow Canadians, Premier Williams eschewed his country’s government-insured health care system, and instead came south to the United States to undergo life-saving and time-sensitive surgery.

While neither the premier’s office nor other official outlets in Canada would disclose the location of the hospital where Williams received his treatment, sources indicated it may have been in Florida.  Regardless of where in the US the surgery was performed, the fact that a high-ranking Canadian government leader would forego receiving medical treatment in his own country and travel instead to the United States to be treated in a health care system that is not yet controlled by the government, has created somewhat of a PR embarrassment for advocates of Canada’s government-controlled system.  It really shouldn’t be an embarrassment; and it certainly shouldn’t surprise anyone.

This episode simply reflects the reality that procedures such as those which the Canadian provincial leader underwent — which are not always available elsewhere – are always readily available  in the United States.  This incident also is a reflection of the high esteem in which American medicine (especially cardiac medicine) is held throughout the world.

69 comments Add your comment


February 11th, 2010
1:52 pm

ragnar: You are quoting Ann Coulter as an unbiased source? (as I spit coffee up thru my nose)

Ragnar Danneskjöld

February 11th, 2010
2:41 pm

Dear Mit @ 10:13 & Some Of course, to address those arguments, one would have to read them with comprehension. Historically leftists do not endeavor to understand ideas, but merely rely on the identity of the speaker, a great cultist tradition of the left.

If you know anybody capable of reading and comprehending, and they wish to challenge any particular point or position raised by Ms. Coulter, I would be pleased to guide your friend out of her intellectual maze. (I know you don’t know any male leftists able to read with comprehension, thus the choice of pronoun.)

Ragnar Danneskjöld

February 11th, 2010
2:44 pm

Dear Somewhere @ 1:52, through the magic of cut and paste I inadvertently removed you from my post at 2:41. Even a biased writer is obliged to deal with facts, as Ms. Coulter does so effectively. She destroys your position with logic.


February 11th, 2010
2:58 pm

Ann Coulter would say, heartlessly, that The Canadian Premier is a bleeding heart liberal. Her only quality is beauty. I’d join her T(&A) party anyday.

T. Rand Collins PhD MD

February 11th, 2010
10:50 pm

Thank you for a balanced, non-confrontational article, Bob.

The most unfortunate aspect of the health care debate in both countries is that the real issues, and the real strengths and weaknesses of each philosophy, get lost in the flag-waving.

There is a great deal of sniping back and forth across the border from those who would use both systems’ problems for their own political ends. Sadly, both systems are broken, but in different ways. The United States has excellent health care and world-class technology that is available quickly, but a significant part of the population cannot afford it. And another large segment of the population can just barely afford it, surrendering the equivalent of their mortgage each month just to be protected against a medical catastrophe. Canadians are privileged to receive complete care for a nominal cost – but to the patient who waits months with a painful and debilitating condition, this can be cold comfort.

In many cases involving cancer patients or acutely ill patients needing emergent care, the Canadian system performs well. My father had bypass surgery, and though there were no bedside phones and the surgery ward had last been repainted about ten years ago, he received excellent care, with home care provided for a nominal fee. That is the beauty, equality, and power of the Canadian system. However, for an extremely large number of patients with “non-emergent” conditions, wait times are long, services are limited, and patients experience significant pain and disability while they wait for treatment. “Non-emergent” does not mean that the condition can safely wait months for resolution.

The problem with the Canadian system is that it is totally government run, with no alternative available, and no competition to goad officialdom to improve services. Consequently, Canadians are stuck with what government provides – sometimes very good, and sometimes deadly slow.

The problem with the American system (and here I beat a personal drum) is that it depends entirely on the free market, and provision of good health care, I believe, does not fare well in an atmosphere oriented to profit. Sick people are not profitable, and in the end, they get the short end of the stick from an insurance industry that basically wants them to disappear. One of the elements of my belief system that I absorbed with my (Canadian) mother’s milk is that health care, like the ability to vote and express myself freely, is a right, not a privilege. Having lived for a quarter century in the U.S., I am still not convinced that many Americans have grasped this concept. I’m not sure that those who campaign fervently for the right to carry a Smith and Wesson really believe that their fellow citizens should be able to take their children to the emergency room without worrying about whether they can pay for it. Personally, I think that it is my responsibility to fork over a bit more in taxes to make sure that the immigrant kids down the road can get their eyes examined. i find it interesting that the health care systems in the U.S. that really provide equitable care (Medicare and the Veterans’ Administration) are both government run.

What is the answer? It’s complicated. Canadians need more flexibility and the ability to step out of the queue and buy care if they want to. Americans need to be freed from the crushing burden of paying for care that only the rich or the employed can afford.

Personally, as a physician executive, I have elected to have a foot in both camps, entering the medical travel industry with International Health Care Providers, a good Canadian company that connects Canadian patients facing waitlists with top-notch care in the United States. I do this because I want to see Canadians get the health care they need in a timely fashion. Those who cling rigidly to the Canadian model may brand me a deserter, but there is good health care available quickly in America, and there are a large number of Canadians (41,000 last year, according to the Fraser Institute) who are willing to go looking for it. I don’t like to see people waiting months to get a painful hip replaced. At the same time, I am grateful for the services that we can get in Canada, and hope that the US can extend both democracy AND good health care to all its citizens.


February 11th, 2010
11:48 pm

if you have insurance the system will pretty much work for you (sometimes if death panels, i mean insurance companies, don’t decide that your life saving treatment is experimental) but if you are like me without health insurance you have 1 option. ER. and that is something i cant afford and a bill i wont pay. that taxes everybody. i am in my 20s and the prime of my life health wise. the system needs me to buy into it, but with health insurance from my work totaling $200 a month i simply cannot pay that. the system will get worse without 30 million people paying into it. a mandate is needed for all citizens to buy health insurance, without one i currently will not partake.

as to the situation in Canada. those who can afford it can skip the line NO MATTER WHAT COUNTRY THEY ARE FROM OR IN. MONEY TALKS as the saying goes.
the majority of Canadians (poor and middle class) cannot afford instant care and thus have a collective govt health care to keep costs down. provided it is not emergency care they wait for care. Americans have a tiered system of insurance based on who can PAY. high priced insurance plans in America allow the rich to get great care, private doctors that make house calls that the majority of Americans will never afford… the system is great in both countries IF YOU CAN AFFORD IT…

[...] a possibly related story, the Premier of Newfoundland, a province of Eastern Canada, has opted for surgery in the United [...]

[...] US for heart surgery: Celebrity Treatment Abroad series #3 By letitiajanehughes According to this blog, a prominent Canadian politician, The Premier for Newfoundland, Danny Williams, underwent heart [...]


February 17th, 2010
2:44 pm

Ragnar already did a great job countering the lies about how great the FDA is, but for Rational Person, here is an excerpt from a recent article about the 600 pending lawsuits against GlaxoSmithKline over their drug Paxil and the birth defects it has caused (already numerous judgements against GSK by the way). Do remember, this drug has already been approved by the FDA:

In December 2005, the FDA reclassified Paxil from a pregnancy Category C drug to a Category D. Category D means studies in pregnant women have demonstrated a risk to the fetus. An advisory to healthcare professionals specifically stated that the “FDA has determined that exposure to paroxetine in the first trimester of pregnancy may increase the risk for congenital malformations, particularly cardiac malformations,” and advised:

“Despite this categorization,” says Vickery, “in numerous lawsuits across the country, Glaxo has continued to deny that Paxil causes birth defects.”

So in other words, the FDA first approved it as a Category C and is now changing it to a D as a result of finally getting to the bottom of GSK’s studies and all of the complaints they have been getting.

The FDA, unlike private businesses UL, CSA, TUV (electrical safety ratings companies) does no testing of their own. They rely solely on the drug companies, who then hide behind their “FDA approval” status when the lawsuits show up. While UL and others may not be doing the same thing, they care enough about their seal of approval to actually do the necessary testing.

There is no doubt that private, independent testing services could easily replace the protectionist, failed FDA in providing much better safety and quality checks. Just because we want the government gone, doesn’t mean the market doesn’t want the services. We just know that any agency that is staffed, lobbied, payed off etc. by the drug industry is probably not going to do the best job for the consumer. Government never does a good job.

B Wilson

February 19th, 2010
1:37 am

The Premier or his medical advisors obviously didn’t care about the quality of the care, just the quickness. The USA generally ranks about 40th in the world according to the World Health Organization. Canada usually ranks in the top ten. The USA does spend the most in the world on healthcare, but it doesn’t get much for their money obviously when it usually ranks below Cuba. They head hunt doctors and nurses in Canada because it is well known that Canadian trained physicians and nurses are far more competent than those trained in the USA. Most of the academics and competent medical researchers in the USA were trained abroad.

Williams going to the USA for treatment is a reversal of the norm. There are many people from the USA who use false Canadian identity papers to receive/scam free medical treatment. This happens constantly, but they would probably die if they didn’t. It isn’t as if the US government or insurance companies would notice or care. The people seem to be brainwashed into believing that government involvement in healthcare funding will lead to communism or some such thing. This is ummm paranoia or ideology taken to the extreme. Communism has been discredited for about 20 years now, the Cold War is over. The USA also seems to believe that whatever they do must be the best or the model for the rest of the world to follow. Wake up and smell the coffee!! The USA has fallen behind the times. They are a lumbering dinosaur of a country. You are not the leader of the world in anything really except their own minds.

William in Lithonia

February 19th, 2010
6:12 pm

…And 45,000 of your American neighbors die each year because they can’t afford American Health Care like the rich Canadian.

From free trade, to prisons, to health care republicans stand up for people who have no aliegence to this country and deny humane services for their own neighbors.


February 23rd, 2010
12:35 pm

Be afraid my fellow Americans, be very afraid.
I am born and raised in Canada and now a naturalized US Citizen.
My family is all in Canada.
Health care in Canada is universal:
- Universally cheap
- Universally bad
- Universally unavailable.
This premier didn’t write a huge check to come here for no good reason.


February 23rd, 2010
12:51 pm

comments like this from bleeding heart liberals are just plain stupid
“And 45,000 of your American neighbors die each year because they can’t afford American Health Care”
The other 295,955,000 have superior care – how many deaths do you think that saves every year?


February 23rd, 2010
7:22 pm

This cracks me up. What a joke. If Obama has his way in the USA, then the same thing will happen. The rich guys will go elsewhere for their surgeries, while the rest of us peasants get stuck with the crappy, “free” government-run health care system. Danny should be ashamed of himself, and at the very least he should fly back home to Canada from his condo in Sarasota, Florida (he had his heart surgery in Miami) and get to work making Canada’s health care system better. Or he should push for every Canadian to receive government vouchers that would allow them to pay for surgeries OUTSIDE of Canada, due to its crummy health system. And did you hear? Danny might petition the Canadian government to PAY HIM BACK for his Miami surgery. What a sleaze. Time to vote him out and vote someone better in!


February 25th, 2010
5:02 pm

He just didn’t like where the SCAR would end up and since he is independently wealthy he decided hew ould rather pay for a new procedure that will leave the scar under his arm not on his chest.

maybe you should figure out the whole story before you make an ass of yourself.


February 26th, 2010
9:51 am

It’s predictable that US right-wingers would seize on this, even claw on it, as they are losing the argument, have in fact lost it long ago.

The premier is a wealthy, and by all accounts egotistical and impulsive politician who owns vacation-retirement property near the Florida hospital, property where he will recuperate. In other words, he is already half-Floridian.

The province he lives in has half a million people, and perhaps does not have the facilities necessary for what a wealthy person would want to buy: the best and the quickest. So, of course he would come to the US, where wealthy people can buy themselves a place at the head of the line.

For your information, there are long waiting lists in the US as well as Canada. I myself had a six-month wait to see a neurologist here in rural western Maryland. If I were wealthy like the premier, I might have bought a place at the head of the line, outside my own area.

What you are really trying to promote, even in the utter absence of any push in the direction of single-payer Canadian-style health insurance in the US, is your own Social Darwinist vision of health care. This story and your triumphalism are non-sequiturs. Obviously, you are capitalist ideologues, and when you see evidence that capitalism is not working, or rather that the evidence can no longer be hidden by your propaganda systems such as Fox News, you go into panic mode, not acknowledging deficiencies and trying to improve your own system, but in lying and distorting this episode out of all proportion.

How many of you think that global warming is a hoax? ALL OF YOU. What is the connection of these two issues? That connection is that global warming is also concrete evidence that your vaunted capitalism does not work for vast swathes of the world. This has lead to your cooking up of little fake controversies over the the science.

What I really regret is that in the news there are always shots of these Republicans giving horror stories, totally irrelevant ones at that, of “socialized medicine,” stories that are cooked up, blown out of proportion (all systems have flaws, even the best!), and just thrown out there like a panicked soldier spraying bullets, hoping he can hit his target. These stories, like this one, trumpeted by the Wyoming politician, are not adequately refuted. He should have been immediately rebutted, but if he was, that rebuttal was not shown. All along, the evidence is there and it is clear and uncontrovertible: nations that have universal health care plans have better health care outcomes than the United States, AND they cover their entire population.

These are also calmer, less stressful, more orderly societies. Try to imagine what goes on in the mind of poor uninsured people in the US: stress, and more stress, which leads to pathologies of the body and spirit, which leads to the crime and dysfunction and social breakdown that we have in abundance in the US but which is almost unknown in nations such as Canada.

How many of you social darwinists even have passports? How many of you know where Newfoundland actually IS?


February 26th, 2010
12:28 pm

My lord, it’s SO obvious some of you have no idea. I’ve lived half my adult life in Canada, half in the U.S., and I WORK for a hospital, so I have just a bit of a clue.

One of the patients at my hospital (one which treats everyone, regardless of their ability to pay), was recently informed by her insurance company that she has reached her lifetime maximum for treatment and would have to forego a lifesaving bone marrow transplant.

Actually, I lie. They didn’t tell her. They told her parents. The patient, you see, is SEVEN YEARS OLD.

The Republicans shriek about “death panels” but what do they think we have now? Insurance company doesn’t wanna pay anymore, so this little girl dies.

My mother has to have a foot of her intestines removed. She’s waited since August for the doctor to schedule the surgery; it’s finally being done in two weeks.

But hey, it could be worse – she tried to have it in the U.S., but the doctors she saw told her that the surgery was considered elective and because of her age, not worth doing (it’ s just a quality-of-life thing – she’s been in the bathroom every two hours in pain for years).

On the other hand, I was misdiagnosed for 11 years in Canada, five doctors in two provinces, telling me things like my condition was a result of my diet, or part of being female and “get used to it.” Turns out it was Endometriosis, and it took an NP in the U.S. five minutes to figure it out.

The morale of the story? Neither system is perfect. Yes, the care in the U.S. is amazing – IF you can afford it. If you are one of the tens of millions without Medicare, Medical or work-provided health care, it’s less so. Yes, the health care in Canada is amazing – if you don’t mind waiting.

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[...] to this blog, a prominent Canadian politician, The Premier for Newfoundland, Danny Williams, underwent heart [...]