The provincial government says 8,000 New Brunswickers are getting their medicare cards late because of a money-saving Christmas shutdown that is now being reassessed for next year.
The office that processes the cards for the Department of Health closed for an extra five days over the holidays and many peoples’ cards expired before their new ones arrived.
"We think that that may have caused a bit of backlog for us, so we've been really catching up," said Lyne St-Pierre-Ellis, the assistant deputy minister for medicare.
People who haven't received their cards will get them soon, she said.
In the meantime, they will either get medical care without charge, or will be reimbursed, said St-Pierre-Ellis.
'We may have to go to government and say, 'We can't do that next year because it causes too much problems.'' —Lyne St-Pierre-Ellis, assistant deputy minister for medicare
The department is also re-evaluating whether to shut down the office for five days again this Christmas, she said.
"We may have to look at the impact that the closure did have and see if we can do that again next year. We may have to go to government and say, 'We can't do that next year because it causes too much problems.' So we're going to be looking at it over the next 11 months."
St-Pierre-Ellis was responding to concerns raised by a Fredericton woman and her husband about why the government is months behind schedule in renewing their medicare cards.
The Department of Health announced last March that it was experiencing delays in processing new medicare cards, but almost a year later, Glennis Arsenault and her husband, Terry, are still experiencing delays.
Arsenault said she, her husband and son all sent in the paperwork to have their cards renewed in November. Their son received his new card in December, but their cards still have not shown up.
Glennis Arsenault said her card is now expired and she’s left questioning what will happen if she has to suddenly go to the hospital or a health-care clinic.
"It just leaves a lot of uncertainty there as to if something comes up, what will happen. And just because the way the process has gone, am I even going to get it in two or three weeks?" she said.
"This has been going on for over two months and if there is that backlog, then maybe somebody should be looking into this and finding out, and I don’t know, are we the only ones?"
Arsenault said a department official told her that her card was being produced outside of the province and it should arrive in the mail in the next few weeks.
Delays 'unacceptable,' says Opposition
Opposition health critic Bill Fraser calls the delays "unacceptable."
"We raised this issue in the legislature nearly a year ago and the minister of health said it would only be a matter of weeks before it was resolved," Fraser stated in a news release. "Ten months later and people are still experiencing delays, but to make matters worse, the government is offering little help, support, or even information to people in the meantime," he said.
Last March, Health Minister Madeleine Dubé estimated that 1,500 people did not get renewal forms for their medicare cards when the Department of Health moved to a new computer system.
At the time, Dubé said anyone who is asked to pay for services should keep their receipts or invoices so they can apply for reimbursement. The provincial government also brought on additional staff to reduce the backlog.
"Given how long this has been going on, you’d think the government could deal with it more proactively," said Fraser. "Why wouldn’t you just automatically send a letter to everyone affected that they could then present to healthcare providers in lieu of a card?
"My main concern is that people will choose to go without treatment because they don’t have the cash on hand or because they simply don’t have the right information," he said.
Arsenault said the government official she spoke to gave her very few details about what was causing the ongoing problems.
"Quite honestly there has been no explanation whatsoever. The only thing they mentioned is they changed their system over and that was last year in March. But that is nearly a year ago since the system has been changed, but that is the only information that they would say," she said.