Sunday, August 28, 2005

Toronto Star Feeding Fears

It was unfortunate for me, but it took my vacation in the Kawarthas to remind myself why I don't like the Toronto Star's attempt at "progressive activist journalism". I apologize if this is old news.

The cottage resort I was staying at offered complimentary copies of the Toronto Star for guests. If you bypass the "news" section, it's not a bad paper. The comics, the movies, the sports ... that's about it. But, try to read the news or the opinion on a full stomach ... blech. Worse, if you read it before a coffee, you just might believe the stuff they write.

Take this hard hitting article from August 23 as an example. When you read the headline, what's the first thing that pops into your head?

Cancer Clinic Caters to Wealthy [full article here, requires free login]

I thought it was going to be scathing review of some enormous private clinic in BC or Quebec (where they flourish), or better yet, a scathing expose on Paul Martin's private clinic [oh wait, as Technique #8 for the Suppression of Truth tells us, "that's old news"].

No, it's an article about Provis Infusion Clinic Inc., that offers cancer treatments to patients in Ontario where the treatments are not approved or not approved for use by OHIP.
Ontario's lengthy approval process for a slew of high-cost cancer drugs has spawned the emergence of a private Toronto clinic catering to well-heeled patients willing to pay $30,000 to $70,000 for prompt treatment.

Provis Infusion Clinic Inc. plans to charge patients for at least six drugs that have been approved by Health Canada but not by the provincial insurance plan, including Velcade for myeloma and Herceptin for some breast cancers.
Okay, those are the first two paragraphs. I'm admittedly a little confused here. Is the article about the evils of two-tier health care or is it about slamming Ontario's slow drug approval process?

I know. It must be illegal.
Doing so is legal under the Canada Health Act, though it has fed fears of creeping privatization in health care.
Oh, it's "feeding fears".

Probably everybody has seen the Disney movie, Monsters, Inc. Monster World needs kids to scream to supply energy. That's what the Liberal Party and the Toronto Star need, people to scream. Ug, it's the big bad clinic that's providing drugs not approved for use - SAVE ME PAUL MARTIN. Or, better yet, let's let OHIP cover the coverage in the US. That's better than in some mean old nasty private clinic in Toronto, which incidentally covers the drugs for 40% cheaper than in the States, but I digress.

Perhaps the clinic is going to push the limits of the law, and provide drugs that are approved for use by OHIP?
The drugs will be offered at the clinic only until OHIP approves them, [Graham Vincent, CEO of Provis] said, but with a growing list of expensive cancer drugs being developed, inevitably some will not get approved.

"This issue is going to be ongoing, because these things are very expensive and the patient pool for them is very small."

Patients must be referred by an oncologist, and the clinic is currently booking appointments, Vincent said. Neither the oncologist nor the nurses on staff will be paid by OHIP.

David Spencer, spokesman for Health Minister George Smitherman, said the ministry plans to keep an eye on Provis to ensure it doesn't offer drugs covered by OHIP, which is illegal under the Canada Health Act.
I'm missing the point of the article here. Where's the news? Why is this a front page story?
  • The clinic is offering treatment for drugs that are not approved by the Ontario government.
  • No one at the clinic can bill OHIP.
  • It's not illegal to perform the treatment.
  • Providing this treatment does not infringe on someone else's ability to receive treatment for the same illness.
  • The client pool for this treatment is small.
The article then even goes on to quote a source from the University of Toronto recommending patients not seek treatment with non-approved drugs:
Raisa Deber, a professor in the department of health policy at the University of Toronto, said patients should be wary of taking non-approved drugs.

"You have desperate people wanting a product," she said. "We have a whole slew of these things that didn't work. You have to balance rapid access with not having another Vioxx."
The only thing I can gather from the article is that the Ontario government should be quicker in approving the drugs or clamping down on "non-approved" treatment - I think - but it says nothing about how the clinic is "catering" to the wealthy.

Is the clinic breaking the law? No. Is it offering treatment available in Ontario via medicare? No.

What's the problem? Exactly. None.

Since it is obviously an opinion piece masquerading as news, it should have more clearly headlined that the blame resides solely with the provincial government for not "apparently" doing enough to protect medicare - at least then the article would match the headline.

Still, if the province is not going to allow the treatments, how can they justify stopping the clinic?

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Anonymous said...

Well it goes to show you what money can buy,and the poor(working poor)can't afford to buy pain relief. We can all thank the canadian gov't for their greedy needs and keeping the public uninformed and surpressed.

zednik said...

I find the Star to simply be grasping at straws now, their fight against the evils of Privatization of Healthcare or bordering on flat out silly.

If this article has made anything clear its that our Healthcare plan does not cover enough, and that perhaps rather then sitting on its hands the Governments should be doing something to approve this drugs so that people who require them to not have to turn to a private clinic,

The issue of private healthcare is one the Liberals have brought upon themselves, and the Star, the CBC and the Liberal party can try to point its finger anywhere it wants, but at the end of the day it seems it will take someone dying after a six hour wait in the Emergency Room before anyone along the center gives a damn.