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A Canadian Doctor in Chicago

Educated at U of T, Dr. Martha Gulati sings the praises of universal health coverage to a sometimes skeptical audience

It’s not every day a Canadian meets the vice-president of the United States. But recently Dr. Martha Gulati (MD 1995) joined a small group of medical experts at a healthcare reform roundtable in Chicago with Joseph Biden.

Gulati is a cardiologist with Northwestern Memorial Hospital in Chicago and a professor of medicine and preventive medicine at Northwestern University’s Feinberg School of Medicine. She has appeared on numerous news and television shows, including Oprah to talk about her specialty, women’s heart health. She is also a co-author of the American Heart Association’s most recent guidelines for heart disease prevention in women.

In her meeting with Biden and her fellow health care experts, Gulati told the panel about a patient she had encountered with a heart condition that required emergency treatment and intensive care. The patient, a nurse who had taken early retirement, was ineligible for Medicare and did not have health insurance.

The nurse’s hospital bills ran to hundreds of thousands of dollars, forcing her to declare bankruptcy. She lost her home and had to go back to work.

Horror stories such as this are common in the U.S., where more than 40 million people have no health insurance. “I have had patients worried about the cost of their prescriptions,” says Gulati. “They might not fill the prescription I give them. It’s a choice between food on the table and their medications. And food on the table is always going to win.”

In some cases, patients are refused insurance. “I have to make phone calls begging insurance companies to please cover my patient,” says Gulati. “They’re fine with insuring you when you’re healthy, but the minute you’re sick, they’re not willing to take care of you.”

Her message to the vice-president was clear: affordable health care is necessary; people’s lives and livelihood are at stake.

In the long run, Gulati believes the U.S. should make disease prevention its top health-care priority. This would be best for patients, doctors and society – even the insurance companies, she says, because it would reduce overall expenses.

How did Biden respond to Gulati’s arguments? “I think he was moved,” she says.

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