The Yukon government is making changes to the medical travel system, including doubling the per diem and making destinations for medical services more flexible.
As of Jan. 1, the medical travel subsidy has doubled to $150 per day for multi-day travel for out-patients and for escorts accompanying those who need in-patient care. Patients and escorts on same-day travel will have access to a $75 per day subsidy.
The new amounts better reflect the cost of staying in big cities such as Vancouver, said Marguerite Fenske, acting director of insured health and hearing services.
“The cost to actually travel to Vancouver has increased throughout the years, the rates didn’t keep up with that,” she said, adding that the department has worked on a list of hotels in major cities that are affordable under that subsidy.
The rural zone subsidy for travel to Whitehorse, which previously offered $10 to $25, has been eliminated.
“These were very small subsidies that were very time-consuming. And what we’d heard over and over was a lot of people didn’t want the subsidies,” Fenske said.
While most medical service visits are taken to Vancouver, Calgary or Edmonton, the new policy will also allow healthcare providers to recommend travel anywhere in Canada. The new flexible policy will allow decisions to be made based on what is easiest for the patient, including receiving healthcare in places where they can receive family support.
“People can actually go where they have family, where it’s less costly for them. But we also know that being close to your families will provide those additional supports that you really require,” Fenske said.
Fenske said the flexibility also adds more options for care – right now, for example, patients are being sent to Vancouver for cancer care when Prince George has a specialized centre for treatment. That also has potential to shorten waitlists and introduce quicker timelines for care. Travel is still restricted to Canada and destinations must be approved.
A new care coordination and medical travel unit will be created in 2021 and 2022 to assist Yukoners in planning treatment Outside.
“I am pleased to say that Yukoners will soon have better support during and after their medical travel journey once the new care coordination and medical travel unit is established,” Frost said.
To increase ease of submitting insured health travel subsidy forms, two dropboxes have been installed – one at the Eric Nielsen Whitehorse International Airport and one at the Whitehorse General Hospital.
The changes to the policy were recommended in the Putting People First report, which outlined 72 suggestions to improve healthcare within the territory. The report was endorsed by the Yukon government, which is in the process of implementing the many changes.
“There are many other things that we’re proceeding with,” said Frost, adding that 26 recommendations have been implemented so far. “We will continue to work with our partners to ensure that all the recommendations that you brought forward to us to that report is going to be followed through on to some extent.”
The report consulted on medical travel in 2019, with a survey of the 3,691 Yukoners who travelled for medical treatment between April and March 2019. The report notes that many respondents were concerned about the cost of travel and navigating an unfamiliar city while seeking care.
The survey responses also indicated that Yukoners needed more administrative support when organizing travel, discharging from a facility and filling out the subsidy form.
“We are so grateful for those people who told us their stories. People were very open and honest throughout the process, telling us their journeys, we gathered quite a bit of information,” Fenske said.
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