'Do you think I have a chance?' ask other Manitobans with hefty U.S. hospital bills

Some border-town Manitobans have U.S. medical bills repaid, others left in debt

After one Manitoba resident living near the Canada-U.S. border had his hefty medical bills handled by the province, others are wondering whether they'll get the same treatment. 

It's common for people in Sprague, and other Manitoba communities along the border, to cross over to get medical treatment in the U.S. The province has a long-standing deal with Minnesota to cover the medical costs in emergency cases.

That's why it came as a shock when Robin Milne got a bill for $118,000 after being rushed to a Minnesota hospital for help while he was having a heart attack.

Health minister visits Minnesota 

Milne's bill wasn't covered, so he went public with his story and a GoFundMe was started to help pay for his bill — a cost that was partially offset this week after Manitoba Health Minister Kelvin Goertzen announced Milne wouldn't have to pay for most of the bill.

Goertzen recently travelled to Roseau, Minn. — where Milne originally went after suffering his heart attack — to meet with officials of the U.S. health care provider Altru and LifeCare, the U.S.-based emergency flight service that ended up transporting Milne from Roseau to Grand Forks, N.D.

Forced to go to the U.S.

Andrew Thiessen, 69, said he remains hopeful the province will reimburse him for $40,000 in U.S. medical bills.

"I was kind of surprised that [Milne] got it this quickly," he said. "It's a terrific amount, right? But I was kind of thinking, because my amount isn't as big as his, that I'm hoping that they don't pass me by."

Thiessen said he had "no choice" when he was rushed to the U.S. with kidney failure in 2015 and put off paying the massive bill until a collections agency came calling. He sold a third of the land he owns to pay for the bill, which was a last resort — he had hoped to give it to one of his kids.

Still, he's hopeful the province will step up to help him.  

"I wouldn't say that I wouldn't expect it, because you have to expect anything, right?" he said. "I would be so happy, words couldn't even explain it."

"Do you think I have a chance?" he asked. 

Remortgaged, can't retire

Verna Kittleson, 62, is also hoping the province will reimburse her for some $65,000 she had to pay after getting emergency heart surgery in Grand Forks in 2015.

Kittleson took money out of her savings, had to remortgage her home and says she can't retire now because of the debt she's incurred.

"It's been very stressful," she said. 

Kittleson said the bill came as a surprise because she regularly goes for medical appointments in Roseau, Minn. and they are covered by Manitoba Health.

She said so far, she hasn't heard a thing about her bill. 

"I was happy for him, and I was hoping it would clear the way for others to get financial relief," she said. 

CBC has reached out to Health Minister Kelvin Goertzen's office for a response but has yet to hear back.