March 13, 2014 2:00 pm

Doctor who schooled U.S. senator ‘thrilled’ by Canadian support

WATCH: Dr. Danielle Martin teaches a U.S. Senator a lesson on Canadian health care

TORONTO – Dr. Danielle Martin knows Canadians are proud of the country’s universal health care. She is too.

At a U.S. Senate subcommittee earlier this week, the Toronto family doctor laid the smack down on American officials who alleged that doctors and patients were fleeing Canada for greener pastures in the U.S.

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Martin knew she had to stand her ground. But she didn’t expect the overwhelming response from Canadians who are now applauding how she handled the heated exchange.

So far, she’s been hailed as a national hero for “schooling” the U.S. Senate.

“I think it taps into a really deep pride that Canadians have about single payer health care. I don’t think it’s about me. The basic value that Canadians hold that access to health care should be based on need and not ability to pay is very fundamental to how people view themselves as Canadians,” Martin told Global News on Thursday morning.

“We see our health care system get misrepresented and trashed in the American media as part of their debate quite a lot and that’s a source of real frustration for Canadians,” she said.

The Women’s College Hospital doctor was invited by senators to Washington for a panel on what the U.S. can learn from other countries that function on a single payer health care system. Martin joined a panel of international experts on single payer health care models – doctors from Denmark, France, and Taiwan also shed light on the system.

READ MORE: Snapshot of health care in Canada – What you need to know

It was during the question-and-answer period when Martin and Republican Senator Richard Burr began their verbal sparring.

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

“I don’t, sir, but I know that there are 45,000 in American who die waiting because they don’t have insurance at all,” she said.

“What do you say to an elected official who goes to Florida and not the Canadian system to have a heart valve replacement?” Burr asked. He was referring to Newfoundland Premier Danny Williams’ decision to head to Miami for heart surgery in 2010.

“It’s actually interesting because, in fact, the people who are the pioneers of that particular surgery…are in Toronto, at the Peter Munk Cardiac Centre, just down the street from where I work,” Martin quipped back.

Dr. Barry Rubin, medical director of the Peter Munk Cardiac Centre Martin referred to, said that he was “very impressed” with how she presented Canada’s health care system. He says Martin is spot on in telling U.S. officials Canada is ahead of the curve in heart surgery.

“We have developed many types of valve operations here. They’re used around the world. There’s nothing available in the U.S. that’s not available in Canada and by our centre in particular and there are many things we do that, in fact, very few places in the world do, including in the U.S.,” Rubin told Global News.

“People come from around the world for the specialized services that we offer,” he said.

READ MORE: By the numbers – Hospital wait times

Finally, when Burr asked why Canadian doctors are leaving the public system, Martin shot down his claim: “In fact, we see a net influx of physicians from the United States into the Canadian system over the last number of years,” she said.

(And contrary to what Burr said, doctors from around the world flock to Canada to practice, at least from what Rubin has seen.

“Some of the effects of the changes in the American health care system are moving doctors to seek out other jurisdictions to practice in. And when you have a flourishing academic environment like we do, we’re attracting people from the U.S., we’re not losing people from the U.S.,” Rubin said.)

But Martin wants Canadians to know: as much as it might look like it, the meeting was respectful and the senators graciously welcomed the panelists.

“People have strong opinions about this so it was clear there were clashing views but I certainly didn’t find the tone disrespectful,” Martin told Global News.

READ MORE: How healthy is your city? 7 findings about Canada’s best and worst cancer-fighting cities

She knows a single committee meeting wouldn’t suddenly sway U.S. health officials into considering the Canadian health care model, but Martin said she’s “thrilled” that the exchange has people talking.

“It means this kind of hearing isn’t just political theatre. It serves a social function to get a conversation going and that’s really important,” she said.

So far, she’s received emails and phone calls about her appearance at the Senate meeting. Some people have even written to her to say that they ended up watching the entire 90-minute meeting because they were so enthralled.

carmen.chai@globalnews.ca

© Shaw Media, 2014

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