On the heels of a CBC Marketplace report that put a spotlight on ambulance rates across Canada, one Winnipeg man is pleading with the city and province to make taking an ambulance to the hospital more affordable in Manitoba.
The report revealed Manitobans pay the highest ambulance rates in the country, something that has put a substantial amount of financial stress on Winnipegger Richard Siebert.
Siebert has epilepsy, thyroid problems and a number of other health issues. He takes daily injections of blood thinners to keep clots from forming in his lungs and swallows 23 pills a day for his other ailments.
Siebert said he has paid around $5,000 in ambulance fees in the past seven years and still owes $2,000 more. He receives a limited income of $1,000 a month from his disability pension, which makes it hard to keep up with ambulance costs.
Because of his fixed income, Siebert said he can only really afford to put $10 or $20 a month toward paying off his outstanding ambulance fees.
“That's going to take me another six, approximately another six years to pay off,” said Siebert. “That is, if I'm not dead by then.”
Two years ago, Siebert wrote a letter to Manitoba’s health minister asking for help. He was instructed to get health insurance, which would cost him more than he can afford.
Siebert is appealing to government officials in hopes that rates will be lowered so that low-income Manitobans aren’t so deterred from calling ambulances in times of need.
“The government should step in, and the city, and say, ‘OK, we're going to work together and pay this. We're going to get rid of ambulance fees.”
The city said the current funding model requires patient revenue to cover 50 per cent of the cost of the emergency medical service. The Winnipeg Regional Health Authority and city cover the rest, each paying 25 per cent of the cost.
The balance of city costs are funded by property tax. The rates for ambulance services are reviewed annually by city council and are adjusted as required.
Siebert said the only way the city and province will be forced to change the system is if other low income earners and people on disability call their councillors and health minister and rally for change.