KENORA – Leaders Ledger – A few days ago I was contacted by a member of the media who learned of changes to the Northern Health Travel Grant Program. He learned of a person with a low income living in his community who traveled over 200 KM (round trip) to access medical services. This person required the services of the Lion’s Club to be able to access health services. But without any notice, changes were made to the NHTG program which made the person ineligible to receive an accommodation grant. Upon further investigation we discovered a short, ambiguous blurb on the Ministry of Health’s NHTG website, along with the recently valid and new NHTG program information PDF pamphlets, both of which seemed to indicate that among the changes to eligibility of the accommodation component of the NHTG program, were also changes to the minimum distance required to receive the mileage component.
Since the time that I have written my column based on the information available on the Ministry of Health’s NHTG website, the Ministry has clarified the changes they have made, by finally providing some clarity on their website and through media releases. As it turns out, the Ministry of Health did make changes to the NHTG program which resulted in the requirement that receipts be produced in order to receive the accommodation component. The Ministry has informed me that no changes have been made to the minimum distance that is required to be eligible to receive mileage (it is still 100 KM one-way).
There are a few serious concerns that remain: first, I believe the Ministry has an obligation to be clear and upfront about any changes they are making to important programs that Northerners rely on, and second, I believe the Ministry needs to undertake due diligence to make Northerners aware of any potential or imminent changes. When I learned of the issue that arose with a constituent, I immediately called up the Ministry of Health’s website and searched for news articles on the changes that took effect on December 1st. Not only was the blurb on the Ministry’s website ambiguous, but the supporting program PDF was changed in such a way that it seemed clear that a change had been made to the minimum distance eligibility criteria to receive the accommodation grant. Additionally, the change to the accommodation grant criteria had only been (incorrectly) picked up by one online newspaper, confirming my interpretation. At the same time, the fact that the change had only been reported by one news source and given that a member of the media contacted me to alert me of the change and to inform me that he had not received any notification of the change from the Ministry of Health and Long-Term Care arouse suspicion that these changes were substantial and not done in a clear and transparent way. For instance, at no point did my office receive any information directly from the Ministry about planned changes to the NHTG and to my knowledge, northerners were not consulted about these changes. If the changes aren’t posted to the website or are ambiguous, it creates anxiety and can cause financial hardship to people who rely on this essential program.
Under normal circumstances I would have phoned the Ministry of Health to verify the information that was listed on their website, but given that I just learned of this information, I was not able to contact the Ministry over the weekend. I apologize for any anxiety I may have caused by my comments and I will be writing the Minister to ask that she make public the changes that are being planned to vital programs such as the NHTG, in advance of their implementation, so that Northerners can make the necessary arrangements in advance of their travels. No one should have to find out of changes to an essential program that they rely on after their travel has occurred.
I stand by my comments that the changes to the NHTG program accommodation grant will be prohibitive and punitive to people living in rural communities in the North. The fact remains that as it was the NHTG program failed to assist Northerners who travel up to 200 KM one way and need to overnight. Depending on the medical procedure that is performed, it may be medically necessary to overnight before returning home. I remain committed to fighting these changes and to pushing for consideration of these and other factors.
Sarah Campbell MPP