Katherine Barton Katherine Barton is part of the award-winning digital team with CBC North. She’s worked in the Yellowknife newsroom since 2012 as a TV producer, court reporter and newsreader.
Tina McDonald learned the hard way that Canadians who get hurt while travelling out of their home province are not covered for emergency medical flights.
Her 15-year-old daughter Kiera was visiting family in Norman Wells, N.W.T., when she got in an ATV accident, flying into a ditch and hitting her face. Tina McDonald and her daughter Kiera. They learned the hard way that Canadians who get hurt while travelling out of their home province are not covered for air ambulance flights. (Submitted by Tina McDonald) McDonald, back home in Alberta, was in touch with her sister-in-law, who was with Kiera at the local nursing station. She was soon told that a doctor in Yellowknife recommended that her daughter be medevaced to the capital.
"’Do you have insurance to pay for medevac?’" McDonald says her sister-in-law asked. "And I’m like, well I’m pretty sure I do cause I can go to the states and I can go to Mexico."
Her husband said the medevac could cost $15,000. McDonald assumed that between her employer’s insurance and Alberta health care, she’d be covered. But both parents agreed, either way, get Kiera on that plane.
"We’re back and forth and it got to the point where it was like, just send her," McDonald said.
"Then the nurse on speaker phone said, it doesn’t look like your plan is covering you." Dozens billed each year in N.W.T.
Every year in the Northwest Territories dozens of people — from tourists, to seasonal workers, to relatives visiting family — are billed thousands for medevac trips.
Medevacs, or air ambulances, are used across the country, particularly in remote regions, to get patients in emergency situations to the nearest hospital. For people who require a medevac within their home provinces or territories, the cost is generally covered by their provincial or territorial health coverage. But if you’re outside of your home province and run into trouble, you could be saddled with a massive invoice.
According to N.W.T. Health and Social Services, in 2016/2017 the territorial government billed 45 people who did not hold valid N.W.T. health cards for medevac flights. The approximate cost of an air ambulance from Yellowknife to Edmonton or Inuvik to Yellowknife is between $25,000 and $30,000. A national issue
Dr. David Pontin, an emergency room physician at Yellowknife’s Stanton Territorial Hospital, says a few times a year he has to break the news to out-of-towners that they need a medevac and it’s going to cost them. Dr. David Pontin says patients who don’t have N.W.T. health cards are usually shocked and surprised when he tells them the cost of a medevac. (Hilary Bird/CBC) "It can be a fairly difficult conversation," Pontin says. "The reaction is pretty universally one of surprise and also shock at how expensive it is."
Anyone without a valid N.W.T. health card can be invoiced — that means tourists, workers, and even southerners who have moved to the territory and haven’t obtained a health card in their new home.
But Pontin says N.W.T. residents also need to be mindful when they’re travelling in Canada. He warns that if they get injured on a remote road in Newfoundland or B.C., they could wind up in the same situation.
"I think most Canadian citizens don’t realize that when they travel to other jurisdictions in the country that they’re on the hook for these kind of emergency costs," he says.
The CBC verified that none of the 10 provincial health care plans will reimburse residents for […]
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