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Politics

Sask. Opposition calling for release of revised ambulance strategy

The average cost for an ambulance in Saskatchewan is $1,090, and ministry documents describe EMS as "poorly integrated". David Baxter has more.

Saskatchewan is one of the most expensive provinces to take an ambulance, according to briefing notes prepared by health ministry officials. The Opposition NDP obtained the notes through a freedom of information request and are calling on the province to do more to fund ambulance trips.

“We’re the only jurisdiction in Canada that charges patients directly for transfers to other health service facilities,” health critic Vicki Mowat said.

“It’s not the patient that’s making that call. It’s the physician that’s making the call about transferring.”

READ MORE: Saskatchewan’s ombudsman still taking health complaints

An example highlighted in the briefing materials involves a round trip for a patient in Nipawin to Saskatoon to get an MRI or CT scan. Without insurance or assistance from the province, that trip would cost just over $1,500.

According to the briefing materials, the average ambulance trip in the province is $1,090.

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For rural to urban ambulance travel there is a per kilometer fee associated with the final bill.

Health Minister Jim Reiter said that ambulance funding is an annual budget discussion, but there’s a limited pool of money to draw from.

“Officials tell me that 87 per cent of all ambulance fees are paid by some level of government, I think it’s 95 per cent for air ambulance. It would be nice if we could cover absolutely everything, but there’s limited dollars,” Reiter said.

READ MORE: Sask. families paying the price for ambulance trips

Reiter added that there is coverage to help cover ambulance costs for seniors and low income patients. He’s also been told ambulance services offer payment plans in certain cases.

The briefing notes add that ambulance service varied from health region to health region prior to the formation of the Saskatchewan Health Authority, and a new plan would be implemented to allow for more consistent service across the province.

The SHA became a functioning entity last December and the plan still has not been released. A public consultation period on a new ambulance strategy closed July 31, 2017.

“Manitoba, in two years, was able to reduce their ambulance fees by 35 per cent. The fact it’s taken this long to consult after years of us advocating for this is unacceptable,” Mowat said.

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READ MORE: Ambulance New Brunswick is the most secretive provincial government agency in Canada: report

Rural and Remote Health Minister Greg Ottenbreit was not in the legislature Monday. In his absence, Reiter said that Ottenrbeit is still working with rural and northern health providers on how to better improve ambulance services. Once that work is complete, the renewed ambulance strategy will be released.

“You’ll see more information coming on that in the next number of months,” Reiter said.

The minister added that he will have to double check specifics on the timed release of the plan, but likely around the spring budget.

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