Manitoba man, expecting provincial coverage, faces huge US medical bill

by Leo Almazora06 Feb 2017
A 60-year old Manitoban has been saddled with a $118,000 bill for a procedure he underwent in the US, which he says should be covered under an agreement the province has with US hospitals.

According to CBC News, Manitoba has a special long-standing deal with Roseau and Warroad in Minnesota called the Altru Agreement, wherein the province would cover emergency medical care that hospitals in those cities provide for some southeastern Manitoba patients. Residing about 4 kilometres from the US border, Robin Milne suffered a heart attack in October and was rushed to a hospital in Rouseau.

Milne’s attending doctor in Rouseau could not perform the heart stent procedure needed to save him from possible death. He requested a Lifelight air ambulance from St. Boniface Hospital to pick Milne up and take him back to Winnipeg. When 90 minutes passed without any word, the Rouseau doctor told Milne and his wife that he needed to either be flown to Grand Forks in North Dakota or risk the wait.

Milne chose to get the surgery and was helicoptered to a Grand Forks hospital, where he got the procedure and recuperated for two nights. Several weeks later, he received bills for the flight and hospital costs totaling around $118,000. The province told him that since he decided to go to Grand Forks, which is not covered under the Altru Agreement, his expenses would not be paid for by the Manitoba government.

Manitoba Health told CBC News that in cases where a patient can’t be airlifted back to Canada from one of the covered Minnesota hospitals, treatment and medical recommendations should be made over the phone until they can get to the patient.

Milne is one of several Manitobans who have been faced with thousands of dollars in American medical bills over the past several years – all for treatments they thought would be covered. His wife has taken a second job and they are considering taking out a second mortgage on their home.

Manitoba Health Minister Kelvin Goertzen has expressed concern over cases like Milne’s but said he was legally powerless to order coverage. He also acknowledged that there are issues with the Altru Agreement and the appeal process, adding that Manitobans might want to get additional insurance in case of an emergency.

Milne has refused to appeal his case on principle, saying that it’s incumbent on Goertzen and the province to cover the bill. As a consolation, Manitoba Health has offered to try and haggle with the Grand Forks hospital on Milne’s behalf.

“That baffles me to no end,” said Milne, who wondered why the province would offer to negotiate “for a settlement they aren't prepared to pay.”

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