Jamie West pushes for an increase in Northern Health Travel Grant

Jamie West pushes for an increase in Northern Health Travel Grant

Sudbury MPP told the Ontario Legislature that the mileage rates and hotel allowances are not sufficient to cover travel costs

Sudbury MPP Jamie West is pushing the Ontario government to make the Northern Health Travel Grant more accessible for financially strapped patients who may not be able to afford the up-front costs for medical travel.

Speaking at Queen’s Park Thursday during the final Question Period for the current sitting of the Legislature, West said many Northerners need to travel to Southern Ontario to receive specialized medical treatment that might not be available to them at home.

In order to qualify for the medical travel grant, a Northern Ontario patient must fill out a form to determine if they qualify for financial assistance. Patients must fill out a new and separate application form for each trip they take. Under the current system, patients must pay for trips and accommodation on their own, and then submit a request to have the costs reimbursed to them.

Patients must also submit their claim within 12 months from the date of travel. When he spoke in the legislature Thursday, West described the system as broken.

“The broken Northern Health Travel Grant system forces patients to cover those travel costs and accommodations up front, and then they have to wait to be reimbursed,” said West.

He gave the example of older residents of limited financial means.

“For example, Denise and her husband, Stephan, are seniors on a fixed income, and they need to come to Toronto to see Stephan’s neurologist. Denise told me Stephan will get 41 cents a kilometer, but only after the first 100 kilometers,” West told the legislature.

West asked the question, when would the premier be able to remove the “cost-prohibitive barriers” that make medical travel difficult for many.

Health minister Sylvia Jones responded to West, saying she was aware there were some unique challenges for Northerners, adding her government had invested more than $48 million in the travel grant program.

Jones said one of the improvements is that the health ministry now allows individuals to apply for the grant electronically and have their reimbursement deposited directly into their bank accounts.

West said another concern is that the Northern Health Travel Grant allows only $100 a night for hotel accommodation, an amount, he said, that doesn’t even cover the rate for discount hotels.

The travel grant application form revealed there is an allowance schedule for overnight lodging, which allows $100 per night for the first two nights. The allowance drops after that to $250 total for three nights, then $500 total for four to seven nights, and then $550 total for eight or more lodging nights.

“However, the “discounted” hospital-hotel rates are now $250 a night. So although the minister is saying the system works better, the reality is that Stephan and his wife are going to be out $150 at a minimum every night they’re here. That’s unfair for somebody who needs medical attention, said West.

West asked when the government is going to come around to increasing mileage rates and accommodation allowances. He said that seniors should not be out of pocket just to access medical care.

Minister Jones told West the health ministry is working to make it easier for citizens to get reimbursed for their travel. She said it is also a key reason why the government is investing to expand hospital capacities in the North.

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