REGINA – Concerns about costly ambulance fees are nothing new in Saskatchewan, but one family feels a gap in coverage borders on discrimination.
Louisa Moberly, 80, is recovering at Saskatoon’s Royal University Hospital from falls that happened at the La Ronge Health Centre, which caused massive bruising and a broken hip.
Her family has been told to expect a large bill for an ambulance trip to transfer Moberly from Saskatoon to Prince Albert.
As a senior, the family expected ambulance fees to be capped at $275, as they are for most seniors. But the policy doesn’t apply to Status Indians.
“It’s bad enough you have to deal with the condition she’s in,” said Moberly’s daughter, Calinda LaVallee. “Nobody likes to be discriminated against, but that’s how this policy made me feel.”
Taking into account base pickup fees that range from $245 to $320, and a traveling rate of $2.30 per kilometer, Moberly’s total bill could be more than $1,800.
First Nations coverage scrapped
In 2003, Health Canada decided to no longer pay for ambulance transfers from hospital to hospital for First Nations seniors, saying it was a provincial responsibility.
Saskatchewan is the only province to charge for inter-facility transfers.
A 2009 report, commissioned by the Sask. Party government, identified the issue and recommended Saskatchewan work with Health Canada to improve the accessibility of emergency medical services (EMS) to First Nations people.
During Wednesday’s question period, Opposition NDP leader Cam Broten said the government hasn’t made any improvements since.
“The government has known this for some time. They’ve known about the problems but have chosen not to fix it,” Broten said.
Health Minister Dustin Duncan suggested the gap in coverage still falls on Ottawa.
“The more we back-fill our provincial programs into what is typically federal jurisdiction, then obviously that allows the federal government perhaps in the future to remove more programs,” Duncan said.
Duncan told reporters his office is exploring all options to see if Moberly may qualify for another funding program.
Lac La Ronge Indian Band Chief Tammy Cook-Searson said the band covers 10-15 ambulance trips for members each year, many at a cost of more than $2,000.
She said Lac La Ronge will work with any member asks for financial assistance. “But not everybody calls,” Cook-Searson said.
Moberly is a member of the Montreal Lake Cree Nation and LaVallee said she’s been unable to secure any assistance from them.
Beyond a reprieve from her mother’s bills, LaVallee hopes the government will change its policy to offer First Nations seniors the same cap on ambulance fees available to non-First Nations.
“If my mom’s case loans a voice to all elderly people out there facing similar or worse conditions then mom will be a hero,” she said.