The Progressive Conservative government won't scrap New Brunswick's $130 ambulance fee as promised in the 2010 election, but Health Minister Ted Flemming says he will find a way exempt more people from having to pay.
"We've got to think in our present funding, who is it who needs help," Flemming told reporters on Wednesday "We can't get the broad brush out and start throwing everything at the wall."
Flemming says most ambulance charges are covered by private health insurance and eliminating the $130 fee would only subsidize insurance companies.
"The issue here is to fill the gap of the people who need ambulance service and shouldn't have to pay for it."
Flemming says the poor and elderly are already exempt from paying the fee, contradicting claims Conservatives made during the 2010 election campaign that those groups were especially victimized by it.
In a press release issued one week before the September election David Alward called for universal free ambulance service, saying it was causing significant hardship.
"We believe that ambulance service is an aspect of primary care, therefore we believe it should be offered to all New Brunswickers free of charge," said Alward in the press release.
"New Brunswickers should not have to weigh whether they should take an ambulance to their local hospital when in need, or pay for food that week. In our opinion asking New Brunswickers to make this choice is just plain wrong," he said.
But a frustrated Flemming told reporters no one has to choose between food or health care because of ambulance fees.
"Well the ambulance fee is, you know, much ado about nothing," Flemming said on Tuesday.
"For people of an income level below a certain amount or things like that, if they would read the bill they get it would say on it they don't have to pay it anyway because of income levels."
Flemming said there is a small band of people in between the poor who don't have to pay ambulance fees and middle income people who have health insurance he is looking to help, but ruled out eliminating the fee altogether.
"We're going to honour our promise to the people of New Brunswick who need it," he said.
This story has been clarified to include additional comments made by Health Minister Ted Flemming and information regarding the 2010 election campaign commitment on ambulance fees.Sep 12, 2013 4:50 AM AT