MPP pushes for northern Travel Grant reforms

By Kyle Darbyson
Local Journalism Initiative Reporter
Sault Star

With the Legislative Assembly set to reconvene next week, Algoma-Manitoulin MPP Michael Mantha is renewing his push to pass a private member’s bill that aims to improve the Northern Health Travel Grant Program.

Mantha made this announcement at the Espanola Regional Hospital and Health Centre on Monday, revealing that this proposed piece of legislation, if passed, will establish a committee to review the program and recommend changes to the Ministry of Health.

The independent MPP introduced Bill 13, the Northern Health Travel Grant Advisory Committee Act, back in the summer of 2022 and is excited now that the legislation is finally scheduled for its second reading on Feb. 22.

“Being able to get the treatment you need without financial barriers is at the core of our healthcare system in Canada,” Mantha said in an accompanying news release. “I am calling on the Ford government to do the right thing, listen to people in the North and pass my bill next week.”

The Northern Health Travel Grant program, established in 1985 under then premier David Peterson, is designed to assist patients living in Northern Ontario who need to travel over 100 kilometres for various medical treatments.

While the program’s reimbursement rates have been subject to increases over the last four decades, Mantha believes that the current travel grants are insufficient given the recent spike in prices for gas, food and general accommodations.

“If you’re from Northern Ontario and you’re going to see a specialist down in Toronto or London … a cheap hotel room is $240 and up,” he told The Sault Star on Tuesday. “Your parking for the one or two days, you’re looking at $30 to $50 and up plus your food.”

Through consulting with his constituents, Mantha said the bureaucratic process of applying for travel grants is also ripe for reform, describing the current system as “cumbersome” and in desperate need of being streamlined.

“When you look at individuals like cancer patients, who are travelling to the Sault or travelling to Sudbury for cancer treatment, they’re waiting weeks and sometimes months for their reimbursement,” he said.

“This is undue hardship and undue stress on those particular individuals to getting their reimbursement done.”

If Bill 13 passes, Mantha said the resulting committee will be composed of healthcare providers and residents, who will be tasked with improving the Northern Health Travel Grant program through consulting with primary care providers, Indigenous health organizations and Northern public health units.

Even though Mantha has sat as an independent MPP since being ousted from the Ontario NDP last year, due to workplace misconduct allegations, he remains confident in his ability to turn this proposed piece of legislation into law.

Not only does he have a track record of getting private member’s bills across the finish line, such as the Children’s Law Reform Amendment Act in 2016, but he’s confident that this specific issue will appeal to lawmakers across the political spectrum.

“So again, I’m hoping that the arguments I’m bringing forward are reasonable ones and ones that are going to be seen and supported by all members,” he said.

The Legislative Assembly of Ontario’s first official meeting of 2024 is scheduled for this upcoming Tuesday.

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