The Yukon government’s director of insured health says her department follows existing legislation when it makes decisions about medical travel for Yukoners.
Shauna Demers spoke with the News following a recent story in which several Yukon residents voiced concerns about the fairness of the medical travel program.
One of the major complaints about the program is that the $75-per-day subsidy to help patients pay for food and accommodations when they travel to Vancouver, Calgary or Edmonton for medical appointments doesn’t come close to covering their expenses.
But Demers said the subsidy was upgraded from $30 per day in 2006. Previously, the $30 subsidy was only available on the fourth and subsequent days of medical travel. Now, Yukoners are entitled to $75 per day as of the second day of travel.
“The $75 per day is legislated, so there’s no authority to provide any more in the legislation,” she said.
Others have expressed concern about a lack of information available to patients to help them navigate visits to Vancouver or other cities. The government does publish a booklet with information about planning medical trips, called “Guide for the Travelling Yukon Patient,” but until this week, it was not available online. As of Thursday, the booklet can be found at www.hss.gov.yk.ca/medicaltravel.php.
Tagish resident Maureen Dastous said she doesn’t believe the government does enough to let patients know what their options are when they travel. She has been travelling for medical reasons for the last 10 years, and she now stays at the Jean C. Barber Cancer Lodge in Vancouver, which she said costs $55 per day, including three meals. But she said it took her about five years to find out about the lodge, and she only heard about it through word of mouth.
“Nobody knows about it,” she said. “I tell everybody I know and it really makes the difference.”
The lodge is mentioned in the government’s medical travel booklet. But Demers said Yukon government employees cannot directly advise patients about where to stay, because the health department doesn’t have an arrangement with any hotels in Vancouver or elsewhere.
Escorts for medical travel are another point of contention for some Yukoners. Last week, Yukon Medical Association president Alison Freeman said she believes too many people request funding for family members to accompany them.
Demers said all requests for escorts have to come from clinical physicians. The government does have some “discretionary power” to decide whether the escort is medically necessary, but Demers said that most of the time, the department will fund an escort if a doctor has requested one. She said escorts are deemed medically necessary if the patient is frail, disabled, elderly or if there’s a language barrier.
But it’s not only those travelling outside the territory who are upset about the medical travel program.
Dawson City resident Hector Renaud says it’s unfair that Yukoners living in the communities have to spend so much out of pocket for medical appointments in the city, while Whitehorse residents don’t have to rack up expensive hotel bills just to see a doctor.
He’s got an appointment with an anesthesiologist in Whitehorse booked for January that’s estimated to take about six minutes.
“For that six-minute meeting, I’m going to be gone three days from Dawson,” he said, explaining that he’ll have to drive down one day, and by the time he’s had his appointment the next day, there won’t be enough daylight left for him to drive back until the following morning.
Renaud is now retired, but he said many workers would find it difficult to lose that many days on the job.
Community members travelling to Whitehorse also get the $75-per-day subsidy if they’re not being admitted to the hospital. Their flights will be covered if they fly to Whitehorse. If they drive, they’re entitled to 30 cents per kilometre.
Renaud believes the subsidy isn’t high enough. He compares it unfavourably to the roughly $100 a day he received for food and other expenses — not including hotels — when he was a government employee travelling to Whitehorse for work.
But he says another issue is that people have to cover all their medical travel expenses up front, and they only receive the subsidy after the fact.
Because he has to travel frequently to Whitehorse, he estimates he’ll be paying out of pocket for three trips before the first one is reimbursed. He believes that’s more than some people can afford.
“I understand (the government) can’t pay for everything,” he said. “But I think it’s really an issue where I firmly believe that there are people that get appointments that don’t get there.”
Renaud said increased use of videoconferencing might reduce the number of trips community residents have to make to Whitehorse.
“To me, it’s an issue that hopefully (premier-designate) Sandy (Silver) and his crew can do something about.”
Some Canadian provinces also offer medical travel assistance, but the programs are not designed to cover all costs. In Ontario, northern residents who live far from medical centres are eligible for 41 cents per kilometre for travel and an accommodation allowance of $100 for the entire trip.
In Manitoba, residents who have to travel outside the province for medical reasons can have their flight costs reimbursed, though the process can take up to six months. Hotels and meals are not covered.
Contact Maura Forrest at email@example.com