Cancer patient, MPP fight for medical reimbursements

A northern Ontario MPP is calling on the health ministry to show more flexibility in its travel rules for patients after a cancer patient in Thunder Bay was refused reimbursement for treatment.
Marianne Cavrak Johansen and her husband, Kelly Johansen, have been denied payment by the Ontario Health Ministry for travel to Calgary for her cancer treatment. (Courtesy of Marianne Cavrak-Johansen)

A northern Ontario MPP, Michael Gravelle, is calling on the health ministry to show more flexibility in its travel rules for patients because Northern Health Travel Grant administrators refuse to reimburse a cancer patient in Thunder Bay.

Marianne Cavrak-Johansen has battled cancer twice. She recently had to go to Calgary for highly specialized cancer treatment during one of her bouts with the disease.

Two years ago, Cavrak-Johansen had just recovered from colorectal cancer when her doctor discovered another cancerous spot near her stomach.  Her doctor immediately referred her to the Tom Baker Cancer Centre in Calgary.

It's one of few centres in Canada that performs a specialized procedure combining surgery with chemotherapy.

"I went to the nearest place where my life can be saved," she said.

The procedure involved opening up the abdomen and cutting out the cancer, then flooding with chemotherapy. Cavrak-Johansen spent about three weeks in Calgary for the surgery and recovery.  Her husband accompanied her and stayed at a hotel.

Fighting for $4,500

Now, Cavrak-Johansen is battling Ontario's Ministry of Health, fighting for reimbursement of the costs.

"The biggest stumbling block was this Northern Ontario Travel Grant, which is supposed to help you get to where you need to be," Cavrak-Johansen said.

Cavrak-Johansen's MPP, Michael Gravelle, is calling for more flexibility in Northern Health Travel Grant policy. (Ontario government)

The Health Ministry refuses to reimburse Cavrak-Johansen and her husband any of the approximately $4,500 in travel costs because their policy is to pay only for travel within Ontario or Manitoba.

Gravelle is Cavrak-Johansen's MPP. He wants changes made to that policy.

"I think that there needs to be flexibility and there needs to be the ability to make decisions based on special circumstances," Gravelle said.

When Cavrak-Johansen was referred to the clinic in Calgary, her doctor wrote a letter documenting that no surgeon working in Ontario or Manitoba is qualified to do the procedure she required.

Ministry mum

Gravelle wrote the Health Minister last November stating his position about flexibility being needed. He's still waiting for the response.

Cavrak-Johansen is doing well now physically. But she said she feels "let down by the whole entire system."

She wants to see reform to the Northern Health Travel Grant not just for herself, but for others.

"If nothing else comes of this — if they give me nothing, but change the rules —  I'll be happy," she said.