Non-profit organization challenges Ontario’s cuts to travellers’ health insurance

Canadian Snowbird Association says Ontario is only jurisdiction in Canada to make such cuts

Non-profit organization challenges Ontario’s cuts to travellers’ health insurance

The Canadian Snowbird Association (CSA) has initiated an action challenging the Ontario government’s cuts to reimbursement for emergency medical expenses incurred by residents travelling abroad.

The provincial government abolished the Ontario Health Insurance Plan’s Out-of-Country Travellers Program on Dec. 31. In a news release last week, CSA, a non-profit organization formed to protect the rights and privileges of Canadian travellers, called out Ontario as the only jurisdiction in Canada to make such cuts.

An October news release stated that the program had previously reimbursed Ontario residents travelling abroad “between $200 and $400 per day for emergency inpatient services and up to $50 per day for emergency outpatient services,” adding that the change would “ultimately increase the cost of private travel medical insurance by an estimated 7.5 per cent.”

The Canada Health Act lists the criteria that must be met for a provincial health care insurance plan to receive federal cash contributions; one of these is portability, meaning that a resident’s provincial health insurance follows her wherever she goes. This is considered one of the five “pillars” governing the Canadian health care insurance system.

Under the Act, “residents who are temporarily absent from their home province or territory or from Canada, must continue to be covered for insured health services during their absence,” the CSA stated in its recent news release. “If insured persons are temporarily absent in another province or territory, the portability criterion requires that insured services be paid at the host province’s rate.”

CSA president Karen Huestis called the elimination of the Out-of-Country Travellers Program “an egregious violation of the portability requirement of the CHA.”

A statement on CSA’s website described the initial steps of its legal challenge: “Our first step is to get an injunction forcing the province to delay implementation of the cutbacks until a proper court can rule on the legality of this breach of law. Our second step will be to force the provinces to pay what the Canada Health Act requires.”

On Jan. 1, the Ontario government launched a new program to finance out-of-country dialysis services for Ontario residents travelling abroad who live with kidney failure. According to the government’s Ontario Health Insurance Plan webpage, the abolished Out-of-Country Travellers Program only provided for limited rates.

“For example, an outpatient visit to a U.S. emergency room may cost thousands of dollars for the duration of your care,” the webpage said, “however OHIP will only reimburse up to a total of $50.00 CDN per day for this service regardless of the severity of the situation.”

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