The SaskParty government quickly made good on their election promise to reduce ambulance rates for seniors in the province. On December 2, Seniors and Rural and Remote Health Minister Everett Hindley expounded on the announcement saying this demonstrates the SaskParty’s “commitment to those who helped build our great province.” Saskatchewan Seniors Mechanism president Randy Dove welcomed the change noting that the elimination of inter-facility transfer costs will be financially beneficial to older adults in both urban and rural locations. “Our member organizations have been asking for this change as older adults’ usage of ambulance services tend to be higher than other segments of the population.”
According to Saskatchewan Health’s website, a basic ambulance call “pick up” rate for residents of Saskatchewan can range from $245 to $325 to which an additional per kilometre fee is added for rural residents. As of December 14, the maximum payable for seniors for a single trip in an ambulance drops to $135 from $275, and transfers between health-care facilities like hospitals, health centres, mental health and addiction centres, or special care homes will be fully covered by the Senior Citizens’ Ambulance Assistance Program (SCAAP). To be eligible for the program patients must be 65 years or older and have a valid Saskatchewan Health Card. If the ambulance service is covered by another government service such as Health Canada, Workers Compensation or Saskatchewan Government Insurance or a private insurance carrier, fees will be charged to those programs. For ambulance companies, the only difference they will see is in who gets billed for the outstanding balance on the invoice and they might find that fewer seniors are trying to drive themselves to the hospital. SCAAP does not pay for out-of-province ambulance services or transportation by air ambulance, nor does it pay for the return of residents who have a medical emergency while outside of the province or country. When it comes to transfers by Air Ambulance, SCAAP will cover the cost of transportation between the hospital and airport, and again from the airport to hospital as long as these transfers occur within Saskatchewan, for example an air ambulance transfer between the Victoria Hospital in Prince Albert and the Royal University Hospital in Saskatoon
Ambulance services for First Nations patients is the financial responsibility of the Federal government through the First Nations and Inuit Health Branch of Indigenous Services Canada. Most ground ambulance trips for eligible First Nations patients are covered through the Non-Insured Health Benefits program, however this program only covers one-way inter-hospital transfers (from a lower level of care facility to a higher level of care facility). Any return transfer, usually made to allow patients to continue convalescing closer to home, previously were the responsibility of the First Nations patient. Under the new policies, SCAAP will now provide coverage for First Nations seniors for the return inter-facility transfer thereby ensuring all Saskatchewan seniors benefit.
In ordinary circumstances SCAAP will not cover costs related to a non-emergency transfer to a home residence including a personal care home. Mitigating circumstances such as no other means of safely transporting a senior patient, may warrant an exception to this policy and this is usually decided in consultation with a physician. Situations where an ambulance is called but the patient is treated at location and does not require transportation to a health care facility, are fully covered by SCAAP. SCAAP policy states that “No one will be refused ambulance service (ground or air) on the basis of ability to pay. If necessary, payment arrangements may be discussed with the specific ambulance service and/or health authority for ground ambulance and with Saskatchewan Health for air ambulance.” Questions about SCAAP should be directed to Acute and Emergency Services Branch, Saskatchewan Health at (306)787-1586.
Carol Baldwin, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, The Wakaw Recorder