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Hefty bill for child's air ambulance hits mom 17 years later

A mother and daughter say they've been blindsided after a call from a collections agency demanding almost $5,000 for an emergency medical transport in Ontario that happened 17 years ago.

Ontario tells collection agency to back off after Go Public questions bill

Ontario tells collection agency to back off after Go Public questions bill 1:51

A mother and daughter say they've been blindsided by a call from a collection agency demanding almost $5,000 for an emergency medical airlift in Ontario that happened 17 years ago.

Annette Trepanier says it took the province almost two decades to let her know about the bill from 1998. In April, she got a call from a woman at a collection agency demanding she pay $4,680.

"I'm angry, because I never hid from them. I took care of business when I need to. And now, 17 year later, they want their money?"

'No way I owe this money' 

"I told her that was taken care of. That there's no way I owe this money," Trepanier tells CBC's Go Public. 

Trepanier asked the collection agency for a copy of the file, but was told she'd have to wait 12 weeks to get it. The collection agency also couldn't provide the invoice, but said it wanted the money right away.

"She was actually very rude, very, very rude to me. She made me feel like I was hiding from them, like not paying my bills." 

In 1998, Trepanier was living in Quebec with her husband and young family. They had travelled to Leamington, Ont., to visit her mother for the holidays. Trepanier's daughter Valerie was eight years old. 

Valerie was only eight years old at the time of the transport and says it's unfair to expect her and her mother to remember the details all these years later. Doctors ordered the air ambulance, her mother says.

                
"I remember there was a snowstorm outside. It was Christmas, Valerie wasn't feeling well. She had a high fever," Trepanier says.

Valerie was taken to the local hospital, where doctors ran tests but couldn't figure out what was wrong. They decided to send the girl to the children's hospital in London, Ont. A snowstorm had closed the highway, so Valerie was airlifted. 

Doctors ordered airlift

"The decision was made by the doctors," Trepanier says.

As it turned out, Valerie had chicken pox and was released the next day.

Soon after, Trepanier says, she got a bill from the province for the cost of the air ambulance transport. 

"Right away I cried," she says.

"We were a young family, I didn't have the means to pay nearly $5,000 for a decision that I had not made. They were the ones who made the decision to airlift her to London."

No response to her letter 

Trepanier responded, writing a letter explaining what had happened and why the decision was made to transport Valerie. She never heard back and thought the issue was dealt with.

The family stayed at the same Quebec address for years before moving to Ontario in 2002. 

Trepanier says the decision to send a collection agency after her all these years later doesn't make sense. 

"There's no way that I can remember all the details, all the people involved, the names of the doctors. There's no way I can defend myself if they wait 17 years to try and collect $4,600," Trepanier says.

Her daughter Valerie is now married and goes by the last name Samson. She's expecting her own baby in a few months.

"I feel horrible. It's not fair. It's so long ago, I can hardly remember it, she can hardly remember it, I don't know how we would be able to defend ourselves," Samson says

"It's not $500 we're talking about, it's almost five grand. To this day, five grand is a lot of money."

Province responds

In an email to Go Public, the province of Ontario says Trepanier's file was sent to a collection agency in July 2003,  "as per the province's existing financial policy for accounts receivables and collections." But it didn't say why it took five years to get it there.  

The province also didn't say why it took the collection agency another 12 years to contact Trepanier.  

In an email to Go Public, David Jensen from Ontario's Ministry of Health and Long-Term Care would only say the Health Insurance Act of Ontario specifies that anyone transported in a ground or air ambulance is responsible for the charges unless they meet certain criteria.

After our inquiries, the collection agency was asked to stop trying to collect from Trepanier.

The ministry tells Go Public it is reviewing this case.

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About the Author

Rosa Marchitelli

@cbcRosa

Rosa Marchitelli is a national award winner for her investigative work. As co-host of the CBC News segment Go Public, she has a reputation for asking tough questions and holding companies and individuals to account. Rosa's work is seen across CBC News platforms.

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