Forgive $20 k medevac bill, opposition urges Fentie

Premier Dennis Fentie and Health Minister Glenn Hart should rethink their decision to stick a man with a $20,000 medevac bill after he was assured he would not have to pay, say both opposition parties.

Premier Dennis Fentie and Health Minister Glenn Hart should rethink their decision to stick a man with a $20,000 medevac bill after he was assured he would not have to pay, say both opposition parties.

Yukon’s ombudsman has repeatedly asked the government to reconsider and write off the bill, which the man, 53-year-old Sheldon Miller, can’t afford to pay.

It won’t.

“I just think it’s terrible,” said Liberal Leader Arthur Mitchell.

“Here’s a government that can spend $5 million on a failed health centre in Watson Lake … and they’re trying to stick somebody who can’t afford it with a $20,000 bill, based on their own bad advice.

“It just offends the principles of natural justice.

“It’s wrong. It’s hardhearted, is the only thing I can say.”

“The government made the mistake. The government should waive the costs,” said NDP Leader Todd Hardy.

“A good government would do that. A good minister would do that.

“Never mind what the department says. Make a decision based on compassion, wisdom and common sense.”

Fentie and Hart are staying mum.

They have been asked to comment on their decision four times by the News. They have yet to reply.

That’s no surprise to Hardy.

“I was once told, ‘Don’t worry, it’ll blow over. We’ll ride this out,’” he said.

“For this government, it’s a big part of their policy: let everyone have their say, and then we’ll move forward and tough shit. And we’ll get through this one as well.

“That, from day one, has been the Yukon Party government’s way of doing things.”

Miller was evacuated from Whitehorse to Victoria in July of 2005 while suffering from chest pains. A doctor warned a heart attack may be imminent.

At the time, Miller made it clear he had no money and could not pay.

He was not yet a Yukon resident. He had recently moved from the Northwest Territories.

He was just two days short of having lived in the territory for the required two months to become a resident.

Don’t worry about it, he was told by doctors, nurses and administrators. The two territorial governments will work it out, they said.

It didn’t happen.

An ambulance attendant did warn Miller he would have to pay. But by then he was en route to the plane. The decision had been made. And others had assured him the trip would not cost him.

The warning was “too little, too late,” said the ombudsman.

Only later would it become clear the NWT doesn’t pay for medevacs in other jurisdictions. And the Yukon won’t pay for medevacs for nonresidents.

Miller is stuck.

He is a cook for highway camps. Work has been slow.

His common-law wife works as a hostess for the Yukon Suspension Bridge.

They have three young children, aged two, eight and nine.

They can’t afford the medevac bill.

Too bad, says Yukon’s Health Department. Rules are rules, and uninsured patients are expected to pay for medevacs.

Hart, the health minister, appears to think the decision is fair.

In a letter of reply to the ombudsman, he said that “a reasonable reading of the record” doesn’t support writing off Miller’s bill.

He never explains what he finds to be unreasonable in the ombudsman’s interpretation of events.

After a lengthy review, Yukon’s ombudsman, Tracy-Anne McPhee, found the health department was “administratively negligent” in its treatment of Miller.

“Patients who are told ‘not to worry’ or that it will be ‘worked out’ and who then make a decision based on those reassurances, are entitled to rely on that information,” she wrote in a report to the legislature.

Just because a policy is applied uniformly doesn’t make it fair, said McPhee.

And there’s good reason to believe the Health Department knows how it treated Miller was wrong.

The department made new guidelines for staff after Miller’s evacuation. Now health staff are required to alert noninsured patients of the cost of medevacs.

McPhee suggested these changes. The fact the territory made them implies it knows it treated Miller wrong, she said.

But it won’t budge.

The ombudsman is only able to investigate wrongdoing, make recommendations to government and, if these recommendations are ignored, table reports in the legislature.

She’s done all this. Her powers are now exhausted.

And with her work done, Miller’s file may soon be sent to collections. The next time he works, he could see his wages garnisheed.

McPhee’s report was tabled during the final days of the legislature’s sitting earlier this month, leaving little time for the opposition to question the government’s refusal to write off Miller’s debt.

The NDP tabled a motion calling for the government to forgive Miller’s medevac cost. And Mitchell brought the matter up during question period, but he didn’t get much of an answer from Premier Dennis Fentie.

Instead, Fentie spun the question around and made it sound like the real victims are Yukon’s civil servants, under attack by the opposition.

When the medevac bills first started to arrive, Miller says he tried calling the NDP office for help, but Hardy never returned his calls.

NDP staff dispute this. They say no record exists of Miller phoning.

“I won’t say he didn’t do it, because these things happen, but I never receive a call I don’t return,” said Hardy. “That’s my policy.”

Contact John Thompson at

johnt@yukon-news.com.

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