CanadaCare sends baby to US for treatment

posted at 11:00 am on June 28, 2009 by Ed Morrissey

My friend Michael Stickings links to a story of bureaucratic outrages involving an acutely ill premature baby, but only focuses on one particular outrage while excusing the other.  Because Canada does not have the capacity to deal with the demand for neo-natal intensive care for premature births, the single-payer system sent the critically ill child to the United States for treatment.  Unfortunately, the parents do not have passports which are now required for crossing the border, and the US refuses to allow them into the country without them:

A critically-ill premature-born baby from Hamilton is all alone in a Buffalo, N.Y., hospital after she was turned away for treatment at local facility and transferred across the border without her parents, who don’t have passports.

Ava Stinson was born Thursday at St. Joseph’s Hospital, 14 weeks premature.

A provincewide search for an open neonatal intensive care unit bed came up empty, leaving no choice but to send the two pound, four ounce baby to Buffalo.

Her parents Natalie Paquette and Richard Stinson couldn’t follow their child because as of June 1, a passport is required to cross the border into the United States.

They’re having to approve medical procedures over the phone and are terrified something will happen to their baby before they get there.

Stinson has a criminal record, which makes matters worse for entry to the US.  Obviously, though, this is not a planned diversion but a real medical crisis.  Surely the US and Canada can agree to temporary measures that will allow the parents to cross the border, even if under embassy supervision and security, to join their child.  As Michael notes, keeping them away from their child at this critical juncture is needlessly cruel.

But let’s not place the onus on the US for the need to separate the parents in the first place.  Michael attempts to dismiss the underlying problem:

I won’t get into the relative merits of the American and Canadian health-care systems here. Suffice it to say that there obviously need to be more neo-natal intensive care unit beds up here. Thankfully — and this doesn’t mean that the American system is better (after all, at least the couple and their baby are guaranteed care up here, thanks to our public system, even if it’s not perfect) — there was an opening south of the border.

Well, it’s impossible to look at this situation without seeing the relative merits of the American and Canadian systems.  First, the child would have gotten care in the US, too, regardless of insurance status.  People get emergency care regardless in this country.  There is a difference between health insurance and access to care that some people elide for purposes of political argument.  No one gets turned away from emergency care for lack of ability to pay.

But why wasn’t there a NICU bed for the child in the entire nation of Canada?  The government of Canada won’t pay for more.  They don’t exist to expand supply to meet demand; their single-payer system exists to ration care as a cost-saving mechanism.  In a free-market system, supply expands to meet demand, which is why Canada could subcontract out to a US hospital for capacity.  Michael writes that paragraph as if it was mere luck that an NICU bed happened to be open in the US, but that’s a function of the system, and not luck.  These parents are separated from their child at the moment through the fault of Canada’s government and not the US.

It’s a good lesson for both Americans and Canadians as the administration and Congress attempt to push a systemic overhaul of the US health-care system that will cost trillions and push us towards the same kind of single-payer system that Canada has.  When we handle our health-care system like Canada, where will Canadians send the next NICU case they can’t handle?  And where will America send ours?

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