The New Democratic Party has pledged changes to medical transportation in Labrador, which the party says will ease the burden on patients traveling to St. John's for procedures — but can't say exactly how an NDP government would manage any additional costs to the health care system.
NDP Leader Alison Coffin unveiled the campaign policy Thursday, telling CBC News the change would remove the onus from patients to pay for flights and wait for reimbursement.
"We believe that cost should be covered up front, and individuals will have far less to worry about — they can concentrate on getting better," Coffin said.
"No one who needs any medical care ought to have to worry about being able to afford to make it to that appointment."
Under the present rules, the Medical Transportation Assistance Program pays for airfare, taxis, private vehicle usage, hotels, meals, buses and ferries for those who require special medical services that aren't available nearby. Residents requesting financial assistance must apply to the program and sometimes pay a deductible.
The Department of Health says on its website that patients may be eligible for partial pre-payment of economy airfare, and encourages applicants to apply two months in advance of their medical appointment.
Coffin said the loss of all Air Canada routes to and from Labrador airports has increased the risk of a higher financial burden on patients.
"I think that we need to look at exactly what the costs are going to be and then adjust that cap accordingly," she said.
Ideally, she said, a government clerk would book a ticket for the patient, who would simply need to show up at the airport and board the plane. Coffin did not detail how government might account for missed flights, for instance, but said her government would "take a gradual approach to ensure that we can afford" changes to the reimbursement policy.
"I think we need to have a good look at the public accounts, and I know that the auditor general's report has not been out on that yet, but what we do know is that people need help right now."
Labrador West candidate Jordan Brown, the incumbent MHA for the region elected in 2019, called medical transport affordability a "massive issue."
"We have people here in this town who are fundraising for patients to try to get them up to their appointments," Brown said Thursday. "The problem is some people, especially seniors and people on fixed income, they don't have two grand sometimes to buy this ticket for themselves."
Brown also said some people aren't reimbursed the full cost of a last-minute ticket, leaving them on the hook for hundreds of dollars.
The Liberal Party has also promised changes to health care in Newfoundland and Labrador, with leader Andrew Furey vowing Wednesday to overhaul sexual and mental health curricula and supply schools with free pads and tampons.