The Star Vancouver Edition |
Just a day after Ontario’s move to axe out-of-country emergency health coverage came into effect, a group representing Canadian “snowbirds” said it will fight the change in court.
Arguing the change violates both federal law and provisions of the Ontario Health Insurance Plan, the Canadian Snowbird Association is now asking for a judicial review.
“Portability is enshrined in the Canada Health Act,” said Evan Rachkovsky, director of research and communications for the association. “These people worked their entire lives and paid into the system and should be receiving those benefits for out-of-country emergency service.”
The program provided up to $400 a day for emergency in-patient care and up to $50 a day for outpatient services. That ended Dec. 31, making Ontario the only province that does not to provide some coverage for residents outside of Canada.
The Ford government has said the program was inefficient, costing taxpayers almost $3 million a year to deliver $9 million in coverage, and that the reimbursement rate was low compared to users’ actual medical bills.
Following an initial outcry from seniors, the province postponed the cancellation to the new year and has since started a new program to provide travelling dialysis patients with $210 per treatment, a fraction of what it costs in the U.S.
Health Minister Christine Elliott’s office had no comment Thursday on the court challenge, but said “the Out-of-Country Traveller’s Program, which spends a third of its funding on administration costs alone, has not historically provided Ontarians with meaningful travel coverage.”
Spokesperson Hayley Chazan also said “the program’s coverage is very limited with five cents of every dollar claimed. Fully 95 per cent of claims are paid directly to insurance companies. With this limited coverage and low reimbursement rate, OHIP-eligible Ontarians who do not purchase private travel health insurance can be left with catastrophically large bills to pay.”
The government, she added, “has always strongly encouraged individuals to purchase additional travel health insurance so they are adequately covered every time they leave Ontario to travel abroad.”
Both the federal government and the snowbird association have raised concerns that private health costs will increase as a result of the change.
“Snowbirds” — seniors who fly south in the winter months to avoid the cold in Canada — “may need coverage for the duration for any conditions they may have. Those premiums could be thousands of dollars” and make travel unaffordable for those living on a fixed income,” Rachkovsky said.
The provincial auditor has made a number of suggestions to streamline the program, including offering a daily flat rate for emergency coverage, rather than a range of $200 to $400.
The non-profit snowbird association represents more than 115,000 Canadians, including more than 50,000 Ontarians.