Cancer support program flaws become election issue

Another Nova Scotia couple is demanding better access to a program that helps cover cancer patients' travel costs prompting all three main political parties to promise to revamp the provincially-run service.

$15,720 earnings limit for Boarding, Transportation and Ostomy Program

Michelle Ferguson and Joey Johnstone stay at the Lodge That Gives in Halifax while Johnstone undergoes treatment for a brain tumour. (CBC)

Another Nova Scotia couple is demandng better access to a program that helps cover cancer patients' travel costs, prompting all three main political parties to promise to revamp the provincially-run service.

As it stands, only families making less than $15,720 qualify.

Joey Johnstone endures radiation five times a week and gets chemotherapy every day for a brain tumour.

"It is a disease that no one should have to go through. But we do,” said partner Michelle Ferguson.

The New Minas couple made the decision to stay at the Lodge That Gives in Halifax.

Johnstone stays for free, while Ferguson pays $55 per night.

They don't qualify for the provincially-run Boarding, Transportation and Ostomy program. It’s supposed to help cancer patients pay for travel, lodging and ostomy supplies during treatments.

"Every little bit helps. If it wasn't for his boss and the great support from friends and family, I don't know what we would have done financially where we didn't qualify for the BTO program,” said Ferguson.

The Cancer Society runs the lodge and has been pushing government for 20 years to change the threshold.

It would like to see families making $25,000 or less qualify, almost $10,000 more than the current cut-off.

That rate was set in 1994.

NDP, PCs, Liberals respond

CBC brought the issue to all three political leaders.

"We have in our platform a commitment to increase the threshold to at least $25,000 a year so that more people with a modest income can get to the city to get cancer treatment,” said Progressive-Conservative Leader Jamie Baillie.

The Liberal party acknowledged the cut-off isn’t ideal.

"We're committing to continue to go down with Cancer Care Nova Scotia to make sure that that threshold is more realistic to what it is today,” said Liberal Leader Stephen McNeil.

“I mean we all know $16,000 and if you're being forced to travel for a substantial amount of time, at $16,000 you don't have a lot of disposable income to begin with."

The New Democrats said they're aware that many people do not qualify, and if they're re-elected they'll try to find a way to adjust the income cut-off annually.


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