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NDP want to cap ambulance fees, scrap hospital transfer costs

The Saskatchewan NDP say patients shouldn't have to pay for ambulance trips between hospitals.
The Saskatchewan NDP say patients shouldn't have to pay for ambulance trips between hospitals. File / Global News

REGINA – Opposition critics are once again asking for a cap on ambulance pickup fees in Saskatchewan.

NDP leader Cam Broten is also proposing the government eliminate inter-hospital transfer costs altogether.

During question period Tuesday, Broten cited a 2009 review of EMS services in the province, which identified ambulances as the greatest out-of-pocket cost for patients, causing some rural residents not to seek treatment.

“Families should not have to be thinking, ‘Can I afford this bill? Can I call 911?’ ” Broten told reporters, saying┬áthe government’s only response to the review was to raise ambulance rates in 2010 and 2012.

Sky-high bills

On Mar. 4, an Ituna man came forward about a $5,045 tab billed to his late wife who required six ambulance trips between three different hospitals. In one case, a transport from Melville to Regina, then back to Melville, cost $2,654.

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A former Regina resident claimed several ambulance rides for her daughter cost the family more than $7,000.

Patient fees

The base cost of an ambulance pick-up in Saskatchewan ranges from $245 to $385, depending on where you live, with an additional rate of $2.30 per kilometre. Broten says the per kilometre rate puts rural residents at a “huge disadvantage.”

Patients paid out-of-pocket $11.8 million for ambulances in 2007-08, according to the review, with the remaining 68 per cent of fees taken care of by taxpayers in various forms (Health Canada, SaskHealth, S.G.I. or the Workers Compensation Board (WCB).

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Factoring in inflation and other increased costs, the NDP suspect patient bills would not exceed $20 million today and want the province to bear the cost.

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Health Minister Dustin Duncan said on Mar. 4 he would consider a review of interest rates charged on ambulance fees, but would not eliminate any costs. Greg Ottenbreit, the minister responsible for rural and remote health, re-iterated that stance Tuesday.

“Other provinces may have lower ambulance fees, but they set their priorities in different areas,” Ottenbreit said, highlighting cancer drugs that Saskatchewan funds and other provinces do not.

“It’s just a matter of weighing those priorities against each other and deciding what to fund.”

There are benefits available to seniors, people on social assistance and some northern residents. The government said funding for ground ambulance service has increased by nearly $25 million over the last seven years.