Manitoba

Border-town Manitoban baffled province won't pay huge U.S. medical bill

A 60-year-old Manitoban says he is regretting voting for the Progressive Conservatives after the province refused to pay $118,000 in medical bills he incurred after an emergency stay just south of the border.

Robin Milne, 60, charged $118K after emergency stay south of border he thought was covered

Robin Milne says he is grateful to be alive after an emergency heart procedure in Grand Forks, N.D. last fall. But he is now staring down $118,000 in hospital medical bills Manitoba Health has refused to cover. (Lyzaville Sale/CBC)

A 60-year-old Manitoban says he is regretting voting for the Progressive Conservatives after the province refused to pay $118,000 in medical bills he incurred during an emergency stay just south of the border last fall.

"I'm really sad," Robin Milne said. "I made the mistake of voting for these people and that simply won't happen again, but ... the last couple of days have been tough."

Milne lives just outside Sprague, about four kilometres from the U.S. border in southeast Manitoba. He and others in the area have been left with thousands of dollars in American medical bills in recent years they thought would be covered by the Manitoba government.

After hearing about Robin Milne's experience in Minnesota last fall, Manitoba Health Minister Kelvin Goertzen suggested that anyone who is travelling into the U.S. regularly should consider purchasing travel or private insurance. (Jeff Stapleton/CBC)
Manitoba Health Minister Kelvin Goertzen said last week he is concerned by stories like Milne's but is ultimately legally powerless to pay him back under the Health Services Insurance Act.

Milne received further notification from the province this week he wouldn't be reimbursed, although a spokesperson with Manitoba Health said they hope to negotiate lower charges with the American health-care facilities involved.

Under a special long-standing deal, people who live in some southeastern Manitoba communities near the border are covered for emergency medical care at two Minnesota hospitals.

Special Manitoba-Minnesota health deal

The Altru Agreement, as it's known, doesn't cover emergency treatments in Grand Forks, N.D., which is where Milne ultimately ended up last October after suffering a heart attack in his yard.

Milne was rushed to hospital in Roseau, Minn., about 25 kilometres south of Sprague. 

Sprague, Man., is about 145 kilometres southeast of Winnipeg. Roseau, Minn., is about 25 kilometres southeast of Sprague. Grand Forks, N.D. is about 200 kilometres from Sprague. (Google Maps)
The Altru deal only includes coverage for Manitobans in Roseau and Warroad, Minn.

Unable to perform the potentially life-saving heart stent procedure Milne needed, the Roseau doctor requested St. Boniface Hospital send an emergency Lifeflight air ambulance down to pick Milne up and bring him back to Winnipeg.

When an hour and a half passed and with no further contact or an estimated time of arrival from the hospital, the Roseau doctor told Milne and his wife time was running out and they had to be flown to Grand Forks or risk the wait.

A U.S.-based emergency airplane company flew Milne to Grand Forks where he spent two nights and received the stent he needed. A few weeks later, bills for the flight and hospital costs arrived in the mail amounting to about $118,000 Cdn.

Told he elected to go

Milne was later told by the Manitoba government that because he elected to go to Grand Forks via Roseau, he was on the hook for the expenses. But Milne maintains he was right to seek help in Roseau and his doctor there also did the right thing in then sending him to North Dakota when the Lifeflight out of Winnipeg failed to arrive.

I've been trying to keep upbeat about it, but yesterday was absolutely the lowest day.- Robin Milne

There is an appeal process available to people in Milne's situation, who are typically covered by the Altru Agreement. But Milne has so far refused the appeal option on principle, saying the onus is on Goertzen and the province to foot the bill.

Goertzen admitted last week that there are clearly issues with the Altru Agreement and the appeal process that need to be reviewed, although he hasn't yet set a date for when such an assessment might take place.

In a letter Milne received Wednesday, a spokesperson with Manitoba Health said the department intends to try and get the hospital in Grand Forks to bring Milne's bill down.

"I've been trying to keep upbeat about it, but yesterday was absolutely the lowest day," he said. "It's an emotional struggle, it's been very stressful."

Milne said he can't understand why the province would offer to negotiate on his behalf "for a settlement they aren't prepared to pay.

"That baffles me to no end," he said.

Milne's wife is now working a second job and the couple is considering taking out another mortgage on their home to cover the medical bills.

About the Author

Bryce Hoye

Reporter

Bryce Hoye is an award-winning journalist and science writer with a background in wildlife biology and interests in courts, social justice, health and more. He is the Prairie rep for OutCBC. Story idea? Email bryce.hoye@cbc.ca.

With files from Meaghan Ketcheson