Lashburn man forced to refuse ambulance because of cost

Half of Saskatchewan people would delay calling ambulance because of fees

The Sask. Party continues to refuse to take action on ambulance fees while patients like Thomas Dale Winacott, a 64-year-old man battling pancreatic cancer, feel forced to refuse an ambulance because of the cost.

Winacott was expecting a pricey ambulance bill to arrive in the mail from his March 19 transfer from the Cypress Regional Hospital to Saskatoon’s St. Paul’s. But, before that bill came, he found himself in need of a transfer again, this time on May 14 from Maidstone to the Battleford Union Hospital. Winacott said no to the ambulance.

Instead, with an intravenous needle still in his arm, he caught a ride with a family member to the Battleford hospital. There, he waited about seven hours in the emergency department before seeing a doctor, feeling like he was not treated as a transfer nor as an emergency because he arrived by car instead of by ambulance.

“I can’t imagine what Dale, his wife and his family have been going through,” said Danielle Chartier, the Opposition critic for Health. “He should be putting his health first – instead, he’s being forced to make risky choices based on the price of health care.”

Winacott’s March ambulance bill was for $1,553.20. His monthly medication costs are about $150. Unable to work as he fights the cancer, Winacott and his wife have a household income of less than $30,000 per year. Winacott’s sister has now helped him pay the March bill.

Saskatchewan has the highest ambulance fees in the country, charging a per-kilometre rate without a cap, and charging for medically necessary inter-facility transfers, unlike every other province. Brad Wall and his health ministers have suggested patients should turn to steak nights and private insurance for help with the exorbitant ambulance costs – suggestions that don’t help Winacott, or patients like Darrell Meck.

Meck, 61, took out a loan to pay off a $1,224.80 ambulance bill from October 2014 after struggling with nearly $3,000 in ambulance bills in 2011. When the Opposition raised Meck’s case in the legislature in April, the Sask. Party dismissed his concerns, saying his insurance will likely pay off the loan in time.

In May, Meck’s insurance claim was fully denied. Despite his heart condition, the insurer said his emergency transfer from the Esterhazy Hospital to a Regina Hospital while he was experiencing chest pains did not constitute an emergency. Meck is appealing the decision. Winacott recently tried to get private insurance coverage for ambulance service, but was turned away because he’s got cancer.

An EKOS poll commissioned by CBC shows that 48 per cent of people in Saskatchewan would be likely to delay calling an ambulance because of the fees involved.

“We hear stories like this far too often,” said Chartier. “The first step in accessing health care is getting there. For people like the Winacott family or the Meck family, or for Sara Bucsis-Gunn, Dave Carr, Calvin Vollet and many, many others who have refused an ambulance or been financially crippled by the bills, this has to stop.”

Opposition Leader Cam Broten’s plan includes free transfers between facilities; an end to the per-kilometre taxi-like charges and an end to the ludicrous interest fees the government is charging Saskatchewan families.