Montrealer mauled by Manitoba polar bear faces $13K in medical bills

A Quebec resident who was mauled by a polar bear while travelling in northern Manitoba has been hit with $13,000 in medical bills because the attack happened while she was travelling outside her home province.

Erin Greene says she was attacked by a polar bear in Churchill, Man., on Nov. 1, 2013. She was airlifted to the Winnipeg Health Science Centre for emergency treatment.

"Since she is a Montrealer who was living and seasonally working in Manitoba, she is not covered for medical transportation cost. This includes the three ground ambulance rides, as well as the air ambulance," reads a synopsis posted to an online fundraising campaign intended to help raise $12,500 to help cover the expenses.

As of Tuesday, that crowdfunding effort had raised $2,800, still leaving her with more than $10,000 in unpaid expenses.

Being attacked by a polar bear would be a singularly terrifying experience. Even if you are in one of the few places in the world where polar bears are known to frequently cross paths with humans, it is not an experience a person can prepare for.

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Also terrifying, however, would be receiving a $13,000 medical bill you thought was covered by Canadian health care. Were you aware some things are not covered while you are travelling outside your home province? Greene was not.

"I was a Canadian citizen and in my own country, so I didn't actually think I was going to be paying anything," Greene told CBC News.

The majority of Greene's expense - nearly $12,000 - stems from the cost of running the air ambulance, while the remainder comes from ground ambulance service. All of her in-hospital care was covered.

But air ambulances are not covered federal health care services; instead, specific provinces cover the expense for their residents.

Here is how Health Canada explains the provincial role in health care:

Health care services include insured primary health care (such as the services of physicians and other health professionals) and care in hospitals, which account for the majority of provincial and territorial health expenditures.

The provinces and territories also provide some groups with supplementary health benefits not covered by the Act, such as prescription drug coverage. The level and scope of coverage for supplementary benefits varies between jurisdictions.

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In most cases, billing agreements between provinces mean most "supplementary benefits" are covered while out of province, although Quebec is a notable exemption from some agreements. Still, not everything is covered by these cross-border deals.

In Manitoba, for example, residents who have been physically present in the province for 183 days would be covered for emergency air transportation. If a resident requires the same service while out of the province, however, the cost is not covered.

It seems Greene may have stumbled upon a very specific gap in coverage. So the lesson is, if you are going to be mauled by a polar bear, plan to have it happen closer to home.

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