Cuts to travel grant unacceptable

For years, the Northern Health Travel Grant has provided vital assistance to northerners who have to travel out-of-town for medical services.
The grants were created after nearly a decade of hard work and lobbying by former NDP MPP Jim Foulds (Port Arthur), who believed access to health care should not be restricted by where they live in the province or a person’s ability to pay to travel.
Thanks to a constituent, I’ve just learned that the McGuinty government has—without notice, consultation, or public announcement—significantly altered the eligibility criteria, now making it prohibitively difficult for northerners living in rural areas to access the health-care services they need.
As of Dec. 1, to be eligible to receive a NHTG, a person will have to travel at least 200 km one-way. This is double the previous limit of 100 km, and means people in smaller communities such as Ignace, Ear Falls, and Rainy River will have to personally finance medical trips to communities other than Winnipeg or Thunder Bay.
This is significant because of the additional clause that states patients must be referred to the closest community that offers the service.
If a you live in a larger centre that provides the services, it isn’t a problem. But for those who are required to travel up to 400 km round-trip to access services and who are not entitled to a grant, we now will be experiencing a health-care system that is not fair or equal across the province.
Of additional concern is the fact that the Ministry of Health and Long-Term Care has made no attempt to inform northerners of its decision to make changes to the program.
There were no advisories sent by the ministry to the media and no news stories on the changes because the government did it quietly and with no regard for the havoc the decision will create for those travelling for medical appointments after Dec. 1 (right before Christmas) who are now ineligible to be reimbursed.
This an example of the kinds of decisions that can be made outside of public scrutiny and while MPPs are locked out of the legislature.
Although I’m not able to raise this issue in the legislature, as I would normally be able to if it was sitting, I believe we need to work together to fight this punitive decision.
I am asking for you to get involved by sending letters and e-mails to me, which I will send on to the minister of health.
Creating this program did not come without a fight. Now we have to fight to save it.