Ambulance fees have been waived for COVID-19 patients, but why no one else?

Click to play video: 'N.S. waiving fees for COVID-19 patients bringing up questions'
N.S. waiving fees for COVID-19 patients bringing up questions
WATCH: The province is waiving fees for COVID-19 patients, but as Alicia Draus reports it brought up the question of why we have ambulance fees at all given that when it comes to medical care, finances shouldn’t prevent Nova Scotians from seeking help. – May 5, 2021

Health care in Canada is proudly promoted as free, but if you require an ambulance to help you access medical care it will cost you.

In Nova Scotia, the bill is $146.55 if you have a valid Nova Scotia health card. For those with out-of-province health cards or who are not Canadian citizens, the costs are much more.

“There are fees associated in every single province because ambulances are not covered under the Canada Health Act as an insurable service,” said Nova Scotia Health Minister Zach Churchill.

READ MORE: Long ambulance wait times an indication of bigger health care problem: Nova Scotia physician

The cost of ambulances has been brought to light by the COVID-19 pandemic. The COVID-19 variants in this third wave are more transmissible than the virus in the first and second waves and are causing more serious illnesses.

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There are now more Nova Scotians being hospitalized due to the pandemic during the third wave than the previous two waves combined and health officials are stressing the importance of getting medical attention for the virus if needed.

On Tuesday it was announced that two Nova Scotians had passed away from the virus, both at home with one individual being an unknown case to the Health Authority prior to their death.

Click to play video: 'COVID-19: Nova Scotia reports two deaths, 153 new cases'
COVID-19: Nova Scotia reports two deaths, 153 new cases

That’s why on Tuesday Premier Iain Rankin urged anyone experiencing COVID symptoms, including difficulty breathing, to seek medical attention. He also announced Nova Scotia would be waiving ambulance fees for COVID-19 patients.

“We’re taking extraordinary measures right now because we’re facing an extraordinary situation,” said Zach Churchill, Minister of Health and Wellness, about the decision on Wednesday.

“[With] the increased hospitalization that we’re seeing particularly with younger people we wanted to make sure that all barriers to access the service was reduced.”
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The move is something that is being widely supported, however, questions are also being raised about why fees are only being waived for COVID patients.

“This very logic which applies rightly to COVID, should apply to all medical circumstances across the board,” said NDP Leader Gary Burrill.

“We wouldn’t want anybody to not call an ambulance in a cardiac situation because they were thinking of finances.”

In 2012 the province introduced the Ambulance Fee Assistance Program which waived ambulance fees for low-income Nova Scotians. There are also payment plans for others struggling to pay the bill. But even with those programs in place, there are still Nova Scotians who are hesitant to call for an ambulance because of the associated costs.

READ MORE: Halifax woman blames slow ambulance response in death of husband

“CARP hears from Nova Scotia seniors all the time about the cost of ambulance services,” said Bill VanGorder with the Canadian Association of Retired Persons.

“We regularly have seniors tell us they would not order an ambulance or call for an ambulance because they don’t want to pay the cost.”

VanGorder notes that in addition to being dangerous for individuals because they may not be able to get medical attention as quickly as necessary, it can also end up costing the province more if treatment is delayed.

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“[If] we could get to these people in time, their total stay in hospital or their total cost of care following that would be lessened. So in the long run it would save the government money.”

In 2020, Emergency Health Services (EHS) collected nearly $13.5 million from ambulance fees with the province writing off just under $3.5 million for those who couldn’t pay.

When asked if the province would consider waiving ambulance fees altogether, health minister Churchill said that it’s a national conversation, pointing out again that ambulances are not insured under the Canada Health Act and that these fees exist in every province.

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