Yukon News

The cure was worse than the disease

EditorialRichard Mostyn Friday June 5, 2009

The Yukon government should drop the medevac fees it has charged Sheldon Miller.

Miller was two days short of becoming a full-fledged Yukon resident when, in July 2005, he suffered chest pains and exhibited other symptoms suggesting a possible heart attack.

Whitehorse lacked the equipment needed to pin down the diagnosis. So doctors recommended Miller be flown to Victoria.

Miller didn’t blindly leap on the plane. He asked how much it would cost, explaining he had not yet met Yukon residency requirements, according to the results of an investigation by Yukon ombudsman Tracy McPhee.

Miller, who was at the time a resident of the NWT, didn’t have the money to cover expensive medical flights down south. He’d filed for bankruptcy and worked at a highway maintenance camp on the Dempster Highway.

But, according to McPhee, health staffers told him not to worry - the territories would work it out.

Also, he was never told how much a medevac would cost.

Worried he might be dying, assured by those providing his care, Miller was eventually convinced he had to go to Victoria. And he went.

His second-worst fears were realized when he called to return to the Yukon. The Yukon clerk told him to phone the NWT government.

The Yukon doesn’t cover medevacs for nonresidents. The NWT doesn’t cover medevacs in other jurisdictions.

Caught in a bureaucratic void, Miller’s been stuck with the bill.

A friend bought Miller a plane ticket home. Later the Yukon billed him $18,176 for the medevac. Today, with interest, the cost has climbed above $20,000.

Miller’s treatment at the hands of the Yukon government amounts to “administrative negligence,” writes McPhee.

“It seems to me that the question of costs and the issue of who pays should be part of the discussion with a patient about treatment options,” she wrote.

As a result of this case, the hospital has changed the way it deals with noninsured medevac patients. Now there are clear procedures to deal with such cases.

That, in itself, is an admission of error.

The government should forego collection of Miller’s medevac bill, wrote McPhee on page 11 of her report.

But the government refuses to do that. Rules are rules, and “policy is applied consistently.”

Instead, it is pushing ahead with collection.

Today, nearly four years after the medevac, the 53-year-old Miller is unemployed. His wife works as a server at the Yukon Suspension Bridge. The couple have three children, aged two, eight and nine.

Miller doesn’t have the money to cover the cost of the medevac. Such a bill will financially cripple the family.

Health Minister Glenn Hart and Premier Dennis Fentie have been briefed on the matter and personally support the decision to make Miller pay.

“Premier Fentie has asked me, as minister of Health and Social Services, to respond on behalf of himself and other members of cabinet,” wrote Hart in a letter to McPhee dated April 29.

“I appreciate your efforts on behalf of the complainant and have taken careful note of your report. In this instance, however, the government respectfully cannot accede to your recommendation.”

Basically, McPhee was Miller’s last avenue of appeal.

Now he’s on his own.

Of course, he’s not the only guy being charged for medevacs.

There are 27 other patients who have been billed for that service. Ten of those bills remain outstanding for a total of $88,060.

However, Miller makes up almost 20 per cent of that total. And he’s the one case the ombudsman’s office has determined was grossly unfair.

When Miller was a hospital patient, the territory’s approach to doling out medevac information was sloppy.

Miller, under the stress of a potentially life-threatening condition, was never told how much the flight to Victoria would cost. In fact, despite his own stated concern he would have to pay for the flight, hospital officials handling his care assured him he wouldn’t be charged for the service.

Then, gotcha! He was hit with a $20,000 bill from the government.

It’s not right.

Many in the Yukon talk about a pioneer spirit, a place where someone’s word means something.

Where someone’s word is a bond.

Health employees told Miller he wouldn’t have to pay.

The Yukon government, itself no stranger to handouts, should simply waive the fee and let Miller, his wife and children get on with the tough business of making ends meet in the territory. (Richard Mostyn)

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