Cou­ple fights $12,000 bill

French River woman suf­fers heart at­tack while vis­it­ing Cape Breton. On­tario won’t cover air am­bu­lance trip

The Sudbury Star - - FRONT PAGE - MARY KATHER­INE KEOWN

Dean and Erla Wen­borne were vis­it­ing her brother in Nova Sco­tia when the un­think­able hap­pened.

Erla, 81, fell ill with a heart at­tack. She re­quired im­me­di­ate trans­port from the hos­pi­tal in Syd­ney (on Cape Breton Is­land) to Hal­i­fax. Paramedics called for an air am­bu­lance and she was spir­ited away on the one-hour trip. Gladly, she has made a near full re­cov­ery.

Wen­borne, 86, and Erla, who live in French River, re­ceived a bill for $12,000 for the air am­bu­lance trip. Af­ter try­ing to re­solve the is­sue qui­etly – and fail­ing – they re­quested a hear­ing with the Health Ser­vices Ap­peal and Re­view Board.

Wen­borne laid out his case Thurs­day at the Hol­i­day Inn in Sud­bury. For ex­am­ple, he said, On­tario pays for med­i­cal costs to non-res­i­dent Cana­di­ans if they fall ill in this prov­ince. Surely some kind of re­cip­ro­cal agree­ment should be in place, Wen­borne won­dered.

“On­tario gen­er­ously pays am­bu­lance costs for visi­tors from other prov­inces. How could this not be a jus­ti­fi­able rea­son to pay for the am­bu­lance costs in a life-and-death emer­gency for an On­tario res­i­dent while in an­other prov­ince?” he asked. “I know there is no leg­is­la­tion that per­mits this; how­ever, if one were look­ing for a rea­son to con­sider Erla’s ap­peal, could one find a bet­ter one?

“Lastly is the fact that On­tario will pay for emer­gency med­i­cal or hos­pi­tal ser­vices for an On­tario res­i­dent who is out of the coun­try. Amaz­ingly, how­ever, On­tario can­not find a way to pay for emer­gency life-sav­ing air am­bu­lance ser­vice for that same res­i­dent if he or she is in Nova Sco­tia.”

Then there was the time the pro­vin­cial govern­ment opted to split costs with Al­berta af­ter Amy Sav­ill, a res­i­dent of High Prairie, Alta., re­quired med­i­cal as­sis­tance.

“On­tario did in 2015 pay a por­tion of the costs of our air am­bu­lance ser­vice to trans­port an Al­berta woman from Tim­mins to Sud­bury,” Wen­borne com­mented. “This would have been in di­rect con­tra­ven­tion of OHIP leg­is­la­tion at that time. The point I am mak­ing is that On­tario’s pay­ment for a por­tion of that flight set a very clear prece­dent that I would sug­gest can be used by the board to jus­tify al­low­ing Erla’s ap­peal.”

In gen­eral, Wen­borne said, Canada’s health care cov­er­age is ex­cel­lent from sea to sea to sea. Un­less, he pointed out, one re­quires an am­bu­lance.

“For some strange rea­son, in all the re­cip­ro­cal agree­ments, am­bu­lance ser­vices are not in­cluded,” he said. “It seems to make no dif­fer­ence how ur­gent or nec­es­sary that am­bu­lance ser­vice is, there is go­ing to be a di­rect cost to the per­son re­ceiv­ing the ser­vice. If the am­bu­lance ser­vice that is re­quired is an air am­bu­lance the cost may eas­ily be be­yond the fi­nan­cial ca­pa­bil­ity of the re­cip­i­ent.”

Nickel Belt MPP France Geli­nas, in whose rid­ing the Wen­bornes live, said the sit­u­a­tion is un­fair on many lev­els.

“Who knows that if some­thing hap­pened in an­other prov­ince that cost $12,000, which is a med­i­cal emer­gency to keep you alive and you will get a bill, I guar­an­tee no­body knows that,” she said. “We are Cana­dian. The pro­gram that de­fines us is medi­care. That means your care is based on needs, not on abil­ity to pay. We have in­ter-pro­vin­cial agree­ments so it doesn’t mat­ter as a Cana­dian whether I’m On­tar­ian. I can travel to any other prov­ince and medi­care will cover me. This is what ev­ery­body be­lieves. But medi­care has changed since it was in­tro­duced by Tommy Dou­glas.”

For one thing, Geli­nas said, there were no air am­bu­lances in Dou­glas’ day. She called the agree­ments and leg­is­la­tion that cover health care and am­bu­lance ser­vice ar­chaic.

Within the Nickel Belt rid­ing, Geli­nas said five fam­i­lies who have been slapped with bills re­lated to med­i­cal care have ap­proached her.

“If it’s hap­pened to five peo­ple in Nickel Belt, I’m guess­ing it’s hap­pen­ing to a few other peo­ple,” she said. “No­body knows about it, no­body talks about it.”

Geli­nas said in­ter-pro­vin­cial ac­cords need to be up­dated. She plans to bring the mat­ter to Queen’s Park.

“It needs to get done now; the sooner, the bet­ter,” she said. “So that fam­i­lies don’t end up with $12,000 or $18,000 bills that frankly, you should not have to pay. It was an emer­gency; it was med­i­cally nec­es­sary. … We should not stick them with a $12,000 bill af­ter­wards. If it’s cov­ered within your own prov­ince, it should be cov­ered when you’re in an­other prov­ince.”

Wen­borne said, quite sim­ply, his wife’s life de­pended on that air am­bu­lance.

“Erla’s life prob­a­bly de­pended on that flight,” he told the re­view board. “It is also prob­a­bly worth not­ing that if Erla’s heart at­tack had oc­curred in most of ru­ral On­tario, air am­bu­lance ser­vice would have been re­quired.”

De­spite their un­for­tu­nate ex­pe­ri­ence, the Wen­bornes say they plan to con­tinue trav­el­ling to Nova Sco­tia.

“My wife’s got a brother and a sis­ter there, and we like to visit Nova Sco­tia. Many, many years ago, I was sta­tioned in Syd­ney when I was in the air force. That’s where I met my wife,” he said. “Nova Sco­tia is a very im­por­tant part of the coun­try, as far as I’m con­cerned. We love to travel down there.”

MARY KATHER­INE KEOWN/THE SUD­BURY STAR

Dean Wen­borne ad­dresses me­dia af­ter a hear­ing Thurs­day, dur­ing which he was ask­ing the Min­istry of Health and Long-Term Care to pay all or part of a $12,000 bill for an air am­bu­lance his wife re­quired while they were vis­it­ing fam­ily in Nova Sco­tia.

MARY KATHER­INE KEOWN/THE SUD­BURY STAR

Nickel Belt MPP France Geli­nas speaks with Dean and Erla Wen­borne fol­low­ing their hear­ing Thurs­day at which they were ask­ing the prov­ince to cover the costs for a $12,000 bill they re­ceived for an air am­bu­lance.

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