The grants were created after nearly a decade of hard work and lobbying by former NDP MPP Jim Foulds (Port Arthur) who believed access to healthcare should not be restricted by where they live in the province or a person’s ability to pay to travel.
Thanks to a constituent, I have just learned that the McGuinty Government has– without notice, consultation or public announcement– significantly altered the eligibility criteria, now making it prohibitively difficult for northerners living in rural areas to access the healthcare services they need.
As of December 1, to be eligible to receive a NHTG, a person will have to travel at least 200KM, one-way. This is is double the previous limit of 100KM, and means people in smaller communities such as Ignace, Ear Falls and Rainy River will have to personally finance medical trips to communities other than Winnipeg or Thunder Bay.
This is significant because of the additional clause that states that patients must be referred to the closest community that offers the service. If a you live in a larger centre that provides the services, it isn’t a problem. But for those who are required to travel up to 400KM round trip to access services and who are not entitled to a grant, we will now be experiencing a healthcare system that is not fair or equal across the province.
Of additional concern is the fact that the Ministry of Health and Long-Term Care has made no attempt to inform northerners of its decision to make changes to the program. There were no advisories sent by the Ministry to the media and no news stories on the changes because the government did it quietly and with no regard for the havoc the decision will create for those traveling for medical appointments after December 1 (right before Christmas) who are now ineligible to be reimbursed. This an example of the kinds of decisions that can be made outside of public scrutiny and while MPPs are locked out.
While I am not able to raise this issue in the legislature as I would normally be able to if the legislature were sitting, I believe we need to work together to fight this punitive decision.
I am asking for you to get involved by sending letters and emails to me which I will send on to the the Minister of Health. Creating this program did not come without a fight. Now we have to fight to save it.
Sarah Campbell, MPP Kenora-Rainy River
Visit Campbell’s website at www.sarah4nwo.ca