Woman Learns She may Lose Home after New Brunswick Medicare Refuses to cover U.S. cancer surgery

Marilyn Steele, a 73-year-old woman from New Brunswick, who recently underwent a life-saving cancer surgery has been told she may have to lose her home as the province of New Brunswick has refused to pay a $144,000 bill for the surgery.

According to the report on Yahoo, this refusal stems from the fact that the surgery was performed in the U.S. rather than in Canada. The surgery was done in Tampa, U.S, after Dr. James Belyea, an ear nose and throat specialist, and head and neck surgeonin New Brunswick told Steele that the surgery could not be done in the province.

Steele’s troubles started on Dec. 7, 2018, when Dr. Belyea gave her the terrible news that she had anaplastic thyroid cancer which he said could kill her in a matter of months.

"The tests were showing that the tumours were invading my carotid artery," Steele said

"And he said the very last thing would be that that artery would rupture. And it would be very gruesome for my family to watch."

Steele's tumour was wrapped around the base of her carotid artery, which supplies blood to the brain, neck and face.

He basically said to Steele, "You'll bleed to death.” And encouraged her to seek help elsewhere as he claimed he had shown Steele’s CT scan to other specialists in New Brunswick and Nova Scotia and no one could help her. He offered her radiation and chemotherapy, which he said could give her an additional three to twelve months of life.

A thyroid cancer surgeon from the U.S, Dr. Gary Clayman, reached out to Steele’s family but said the surgery had to be soon, as the cells with her type of cancer divide rapidly.

"We had from 8:30 in the morning Saturday morning until Monday morning at 8 a.m. — so 48 hours we had to get to Tampa," she said.

Two days later, Steele went through a successful seven-hour surgery, followed by 40 rounds of targeted radiation in Toronto, then daily chemotherapy pills for life.

However, Steele’s relief was cut short after they received news, midway through radiation treatments in Toronto thatNew Brunswick Medicare would not pay for any of her care in the U.S. According to NB Medicare, out-of-country services are only covered if there is proof no Canadian centres could perform them.

Dr. Belyea had told the NB Medicare that Steele, "was not considered a surgical candidate in New Brunswick or Nova Scotia," mainly because the surgery was too complicated. Dr. Zeljko Bolesnikov, the medical consultant to New Brunswick Medicare, replied that there wasn't any proof Belyea had tried to find out if other hospitals in Canada could do the procedure, and according to him, there were three hospitals in Canada which could have done the surgery.

Belyea claims he is ignorant of any legislation that required him to call every centre in Canada to see if a surgeon could do the job.

"In the time it would've taken for Marilyn Steele to be assessed at every academic centre in Canada, she would have almost certainly died of airway obstruction or had distant metastasis," he wrote.

For now, the Steele family is caught in what appears to be a battle the doctor and New Brunswick Medicare.

"I'm very frustrated at what appears to be a technicality between someone claiming to not know the process and someone claiming that the process has to be followed in order for something to happen," said Lesley, Steele’s daughter.

"Those two sides don't involve my mother at all."

"We're not rich people," she said. "We're both retired on a small pension. And the only asset that we have in our home. And it's a very modest three-bedroom bungalow in the country."

Marilyn is receiving a monthly payment from New Brunswick Medicare for her medical stay in Toronto, and a GoFundMe campaign has been started for the family.


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