Travel grant bill moves forward

Sam Odrowski

Improvements could soon come to the Northern Health Travel Grant, which reimburses residents of northern Ontario who have to travel significant distances to receive healthcare.

NDP MPP for Thunder Bay-Atikokan Judith Monteith-Farrell presented a bill to the legislature on Nov. 19 that looks to fix some of the issues surrounding the program.

“People across northern Ontario have been clear that the Northern Health Travel Grant isn’t working for them, and that there are serious problems with it,” she said.

“Constituents contact my office every week to say the Northern Health Travel Grant isn’t covering their travel costs, that the reimbursement rates offered are too low, and that wait times to get reimbursed are far too long.”

Monteith-Farrell’s bill passed second reading in the legislature last Thursday and she’s hopeful that it will move forward.

“Because it passed second reading, I think it did have the effect of bringing the issue to the forefront,” she noted.

Monteith-Farrell said she’s heard from the province that the Ministry of Health is already looking at measures to improve the program such as direct deposit and modernization of the application, but more needs to be done.

“I’m hopeful we can put enough pressure on so that the bill does pass and so that we do get the concrete work done,” she remarked.

“Or maybe the government will look at making improvements even if the bill doesn’t pass through the third reading.”

Currently those who use the Northern Health Travel Grant must submit their applications by mail following their medical appointment or procedure and wait eight weeks for their reimbursement.
“The other thing is that people with multiple appointments were really hurting–and still are–because they have to pay that money upfront,” Monteith-Farrell noted.

She said this has an amplified effect on low income families and seniors on a fixed income.
If the bill is passed, a Northern Health Travel Grant advisory committee would be established to consult with northern families and healthcare workers to improve the present system.

Monteith-Farrell said it’s important for users of the travel grant to complain when issues arise, put in appeals, and continue to apply pressure for improvements.

“Go to your MPP and have them assist you if you are having problems, so that we are aware of the kinds of problems people are facing,” she remarked.

“The Canada Health Act ensures everyone in Canada has equal reasonable access to healthcare and in northern Ontario when we have to travel for our healthcare, then travel becomes part of that picture and we need systems in place to ensure that people can get the healthcare they need,” Monteith-Farrell stressed.