Ambulance fees still slated to be axed as promised in 2010

Health officials in New Brunswick say they still hope to eliminate ambulance fees before the next election, as promised by the Alward Progressive Conservatives during the 2010 election campaign.

Health officials tell legislative committee they hope to fulfill Alward campaign pledge

Health officials in New Brunswick say they still hope to eliminate ambulance fees before the next election, as promised by the Alward Progressive Conservatives during the 2010 election campaign.

It costs $130 to use an ambulance in the province.

Opposition Liberal MLA Bernard LeBlanc says people come to his office all the time complaining about ambulance bills, including people who are supposed to be exempt, such as those on social assistance.

"For whatever reason they're not aware that if they're on supplement, they don't have to pay that bill," LeBlanc told Health officials appearing at legislative committee on Thursday.

"Many of them have already paid them and many of them will not go back to get the payment," he said.

Deputy Minister of Health Marc Leger told the MLAs information about who's exempt from the fee is on the ambulance bills.

"That would be the main communication tool," he said. "It's right there on the letter that comes in."

Ambulance New Brunswick billed $4.4 million worth of trips last year, said Leger.

But it collected only about 80 per cent — $3.5 million, he said.

Deficit growing

In November, Finance Minister Blaine Higgs said the government still planned to eliminate the fee, but acknowledged it was not a certainty with the provincial deficit then-expected to be $357 million.

The projected deficit has since soared to $411 million, well above the $183 million that was estimated in last March's budget.

New Brunswick Liberals imposed a fee for ambulance service in 2009.

Liberals complained some people were using ambulances like a free taxi to get themselves to the hospital and imposed the $130 fee partly to recoup money and partly to discourage frivolous calls.

In the fee's first year, ambulance rides dropped by 14 per cent.

The Conservatives condemned the fee and promised to eliminate it during the 2010 provincial election.

"No one should have to pay for ambulance service," then-opposition leader David Alward had said during the campaign

"We believe that ambulance service is an aspect of primary care, therefore we believe it should be offered to all New Brunswickers free of charge."

The pledge also appeared on page 11 of the Progressive Conservative's 2010 platform.