Yukon health minister says 'no' to increase funding for medical travel
'I empathize with the fact that it costs a lot. But we certainly can't be footing 100 per cent of the bill'
Yukon's health minister says she won't increase the amounts given to Yukoners for medical travel in the foreseeable future.
Minister Pauline Frost was responding to questions from Yukon Party MLA Patti McLeod at the legislature this week.
McLeod said there's a large disparity between what people are reimbursed for medical travel in the territory, compared to what Yukon government employees receive.
People who have to drive to Whitehorse for medical treatment get 30 cents per kilometre, compared to the 60.5 cents per kilometre that Yukon government employees receive, McLeod noted.
"With inflation, and with the government working to implement a carbon tax, which will increase the cost of travel, Yukoners will soon find it most unaffordable to get that medical treatment that people in Whitehorse receive. Will the government commit to increase the in-territory medical travel reimbursement rate?" asked McLeod in the legislature.
Frost didn't address the issue of carbon tax, but instead said the government is "trying to provide services to individuals and citizens where they reside."
"The question about whether we're going to increase medical travel fees, at this point in time, I can say that is not something that we're considering."
'Can't be footing 100 per cent of the bill'
McLeod then asked about the $75 per day stipend the government gives to people who travel outside the territory to seek medical care.
She noted that's intended to cover both hotel, meals and other expenses, and again, asked Frost if she would increase the amount available to Yukoners to ensure they "are not losing money."
Frost replied that her department took a "close review and assessment on the medical travel."
"Looking at other jurisdictions in Canada. I can affirm that Yukon has one of the highest reimbursement rates for medical travel," said Frost.
Meanwhile, Yukon government employees receive $98.45 a day for meals and expenses when they're travelling outside the territory for work. Hotel expenses are also covered, and government employees receive a further $26 a day for child care while they're travelling.
Frost said her department has expanded the services of specialists who travel to Whitehorse General Hospital, in an attempt to keep costs down.
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Speaking to reporters later, Frost said the government spends nearly $13 million a year on medical travel, and she repeated she's not looking to increase the reimbursement rates.
"Right now, the Yukon has the highest rate of medical travel assistance in the country, and we're not changing that. Will we enhance that in the future? There's a possibility that we might. At this point in time, given our budgets, it's not likely to happen in the next fiscal year."
Frost added that government is not fully responsible for covering Yukoners' medical costs. But she added that she "totally empathizes with Yukoners."
"I empathize with the fact that it costs a lot of money to travel. But we certainly can't be footing 100 per cent of the bill," said Frost.
Frost added that "no Yukoner should ever be afraid that we'll never provide services for medical travel... it will always be there, it's a requirement, it's a fiduciary obligation of this government."
Last December, Yukon Premier Sandy Silver said that increasing funds for medical travel was a top priority of his government.
On Wednesday, a spokesperson for Silver said that his negotiations with Ottawa last year focused on increasing the overall pot of medical travel funding, and that reimbursement rates were not part of those discussions.