$30K ambulance bill exposes coverage gap

by Will Ashworth19 Aug 2015
Ontario has let its rural hospitals deteriorate to the point where almost anything serious requires airlifting patients to bigger centres – something prompting critics to wonder why air ambulance bills aren’t covered.
 
An Alberta woman recently underwent the premature delivery of her baby while visiting relatives in Northern Ontario. The nearest hospital in Timmins didn’t have the equipment to handle a premature birth and so she was sent by Ornge air ambulance to Sudbury only to be handed an enormous bill for her trouble.
 
Critics are screaming foul.
 
“They should have allocated for these types of situations to arise,” said Ontario PC critic Bill Walker. “Ten thousand dollars would cripple most people.”
 
The solution to preventing these unexpected costs, say advisors, is to sell clients on travel insurance whenever they’re out of province. It’s an important product whether or not changes are made to provincial coverage because client’s also travel outside the country.
 
However, they argue, something more permanent needs to be implemented by provincial governments across the country – a solution that doesn’t put a gun to the head of expectant mothers. That’s especially true when you consider that the Travel Health Insurance Association itself cautions that specific policies are subject to certain exclusions, including premature birth.
 
“They stabilize you long enough for Ornge to ship you out,” said Ontario NDP health critic France Gélinas. “This has become our hospital service in Northern Ontario, and hospital services are covered by … by the government.”
 
If you think an Ontario resident would have gotten off paying the $30,000 air ambulance bill – think again. An Ontario resident with a valid OHIP card pays for $45 for an ambulance ride when a doctor deems it necessary, $240 when it’s not, the entire cost of an air ambulance ride.

The Ontario Council of Hospital Unions believes the Ontario government’s ‘aggressive” downsizing of obstetric services is the root cause of this injustice.

“No Canadian should be forced to personally bear the cost of a deliberate policy of centralization of birthing services,” said union president Michael Hurley.