Province announces updates to Travel Grant program

By Ken Kellar
Staff writer
kkellar@fortfrances.com

Those in the northwest of the province will be seeing some additional benefits when they need to travel for health-related reasons.

As part of the Ontario government’s announced 2024 budget, a release from Tuesday, April 30, 2024, added more information on planned changes to the Northern Health Travel Grant program, a program that provides financial compensation for those in the north who need to travel to larger city centres such as Thunder Bay for medical care and appointments, so long as they are not services available within a 100-kilometre radius of where they live.

The government announced it will be investing $45-million over three years to expand the program, with deputy premier and Ontario Minister of Health Sylvia Jones noting the investment is part of its plan to address health care shortages in the north of the province.

“Our government knows that for too long, patients in Northern Ontario have faced unique challenges when accessing health care and that is why our government is taking action to expand access to care, in every corner of the province,” Jones said.

“Our investment to expand and enhance the Northern Health Travel Grant, will ensure more people in Northern Ontario can connect to the specialized care they need, when they need it.”

The province’s release notes that the government will begin its expansions and improvements to the program in Fall 2024, and some of those changes will include introducing a more convenient online application form that will include digital receipt submissions to make reimbursement faster, eliminating the need for a signature from the referring health care provider to make the application process easier, adding more eligible health care providers and facility locations, such as community laboratories, to help more people get reimbursed for their incurred costs, and removing the 100-kilometre deductible so people are reimbursed for every kilometre travelled to help offset higher gas prices.

Kenora-Rainy River MPP Greg Rickford noted the program is particularly beneficial to those in the northwest of the province, in his districts, as our access to health care is much more limited and travel is a frequent necessity, hence the improvements to the program come as a relief.

“Our government is responding to the increased travel costs for health care services and programs in the Northwest,” Rickford said.

“In the Kenora and Rainy River Districts, we travel as much if not more for health-related services than anyone in the region. As a Northerner, I’ve experienced the process and increased costs firsthand. This expansion will come as a tremendous relief to my constituents.”

In addition to previously mentioned expansions and changes to the program, the government also announced changes to reimbursements for overnight trips for the first time since 2017, which it said is again in reflection of rising prices and increased costs. The changes involved in the overnight trip reimbursements will include increasing the accommodation allowance from $100 to $175 per night, as well as increasing the total allowance for eight or more nights from $550 to $1,150, reducing the travel distance to be eligible for overnight accommodation allowance from 200 kilometres to 100 kilometres, and expanding the eligibility to include medical travel companions accompanying a patient who is hospitalized.

“The Northern Health Travel Grant plays a vital role in mitigating the financial burden of medical‐related travel for the people of Ontario in Northern communities,” said Peter Bethlenfalvy, Minister of Finance.

“This enhancement in Ontario’s 2024 Budget is part of our plan to support health care in northern and rural communities.”

According to the government, approximately 170,000 Northern Health Travel Grants were processed in 2022-2023 to support the needs of approximately 66,000 northern Ontario residents. 98 percent of eligible applications for the grant are paid within four to six weeks, with the new submission form expected to further reduce processing times.