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FACT CHECK: Loose Facts in Health Horror Story

FACT CHECK: Loose Facts in Health Horror Story

Associated Press/AP Online

September 30, 2009

WASHINGTON – Shona Holmes is the Harry and Louise of this year’s health care debate, only unlike the fictional folks who memorably trashed the Clinton-era health plan in advocacy ads 15 years ago, Holmes is real.

But her story? It’s not quite the slam-dunk indictment of socialized medicine that’s been portrayed by Republican lawmakers and their allies.

Holmes, a Canadian living under that country’s single-payer system, has said flatly that her brain tumor would have killed her if she’d accepted her fate in Canada – a wait of four months for one specialist and six months for another. Instead she went to the U.S. and had successful surgery.

But she never had cancer – a fact routinely omitted by the advocates who have seized on her case. Technically, she didn’t have a tumor, either. She had a benign cyst that was apparently threatening her eyesight.

Holmes’ decision to come to the U.S. exposed her both to the best of American health care and the worst: its capacity for prompt, advanced treatment for complicated conditions, and its staggering expense.

She and her husband took out a second mortgage on their Waterdown, Ontario, home and made other sacrifices to cover the nearly $100,000 in medical and travel bills from her visits to the Mayo Clinic in Scottsdale, Ariz.

In that respect, she was much like the 40 million or so Americans who have no health insurance and are only one hospital bill away from financial peril.

Had she waited, the surgery would have cost her nothing back home. She says that was a risk she couldn’t take.

Holmes has pitched her case against government-run health care in advocacy group advertising, TV interviews and testimony to Congress, while holding back her medical records from scrutiny. She is back in Washington this week for a conservative forum. Republican Senate leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, among others, has showcased her story.

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