Coffin says NDP would better meet medical transportation needs for Labrador

·3 min read

The Newfoundland and Labrador NDP announced Thursday a commitment to change the Medical Transportation Assistance Program (MTAP) so it would no longer require upfront payment and reimbursement for users.

NDP Leader Alison Coffin was in Labrador on Wednesday and Thursday this week, talking to Labradorians and campaigning with the local candidates.

Coffin said they’ve been hearing about a variety of issues from people, including affordability, access to medical care and transportation.

Coffin said the MTAP, which covers up to $1,000 of a flight, is insufficient for the needs of Labradorians, and changes need to be made.

“We’re proposing that the flights be covered. That should be covered by government,” she told SaltWire Network. “If you have a medical appointment or if you have a procedure scheduled, that shouldn't be a burden on families and individuals at a time they’re already concerned about their health. That’s grossly inappropriate, so the right thing to do is fund those flights.”

Coffin said the fact that people sometimes have to fundraise to cover the cost of the flights to get medical treatment is "ridiculous," so the NDP wants to make sure it’s meeting the needs of Labradorians.

“It’s an example of government downloading the cost of health care to individuals,” she said. “That is not appropriate. We have a universal health-care system. Why are individuals incurring enormous costs to access health care? That’s not a universal health-care system.”

People having to travel as much as they do for medical services is another part of the issue, Coffin said, and stressed that the MTAP changes are just part of the changes the NDP sees that are needed to health-care delivery in Labrador.

Labrador West resident Dawn Willcott said she agrees the program needs to change, and as it currently stands is prohibitive to Labradorians accessing health care.

Willcott said she had to travel from Labrador West to St. John’s for knee surgery and when she arrived was told they didn’t have the time and would have to rebook.

“He calls me months later and says, ‘Can you come next week?’” she said. “I was like, ‘Do you know where Labrador City is?’”

Willcott said she sees it as just one way that health care needs to be improved in Labrador, and things like more video conferencing and sending specialists to the area even for a few weeks to see patients would cut down on medical travel and the subsequent expenses.

The key issue, she said, is finding ways to get doctors to come to the area and to stay.

“There is always the stress of leaving family, work and their home (for travellers),” she said. “They should be looking at ways to provide more services locally instead.”

She said less travel would improve morale, businesses wouldn’t lose employees for as long, and people would not be so worried about leaving their home and family.

Evan Careen, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, The Telegram