Newfoundland and Labrador has partnered with PAL Airlines to bring in a new $1,000 travel voucher meant to ease the financial burden for people leaving Labrador for medical appointments. (CBC)
The provincial government has a new travel voucher, aimed at helping patients fly out Labrador to attend certain medical appointments.
It's a shift away from the previous Medical Transportation Assistance Program (MTAP) model, where people had to pay out of pocket for flights and then apply to be reimbursed.
The voucher program, which is in partnership with PAL Airlines, is for patients and escorts in the Labrador-Grenfell Health Zone. It covers $1,000 for eligible airfare costs to larger centres for access specialized insured medical services.
There is also an assistance rate of 75 per cent toward additional eligible airfare costs exceeding $1,000.
"When I assumed this role I really wanted to put a focus on how to alleviate the financial burden. And for many at home they might not realize because they've never used it," Premier Andrew Furey said Friday.
Under the old MTAP system, Furey said getting money back could take time and could have a negative impacts on individuals. The new voucher program through PAL will alleviate some of that financial tension, he said.
"So it's something that we thought about for a couple of years now. I mean with the stress and strain of the pandemic and everything else, it was a bit delayed," he said.
Premier Andrew Furey was in Labrador City on Friday to announce the new medical travel voucher. (Darryl Dinn/CBC)
Labrador Affairs Minsiter Lisa Dempster said other changes to MTAP are coming. She said a common complaint about the program is the long wait time for claims to be reimbursed.
"We're up to the current, real time in processing," she said. "There are a number of enhancements still to come."
More work to be done: NDP
NDP MHA Jordan Brown, who represents Labrador West, wasn't completely impressed with Friday's announcement, arguing the time frame in which the problem was addressed took too long.
"This government has been in power for eight years and it took them eight years to realize that the system was broken," Brown told CBC News.
He called the previous pay-up-front system discriminatory and that it harmed Labrador residents.
Still, Brown said he's glad the government has finally done something about the MTAP issue and he's optimistic about the future.
He added the shift from a reimbursement program to a voucher-style program is something he had been calling for.
There is still work to be done and he'd like to see it go further.
NDP MHA for Labrador West Jordan Brown says there is more work to be done when it comes to ensuring Labrador residents have equal access to health care. (Darryl Dinn/CBC)
"There should never be any money coming out of anyone's pocket to have fair and equal access to health care," he said. "So as long as someone has to pay to fly to St. John's in any form or fashion to get health care, it is still not right in my opinion."
Brown said he has people coming into his office telling him their MTAP claims have been rejected for the "silliest of things" like an illegible signature or a doctor forgetting to check a box. He said these are the things MTAP does to block people from getting reimbursed.
"Until they get that straightened out, I'm going to sit back and wait and see how this whole form thing happens," he said.
Brown said he will bring forward any new issues that arise.
The voucher came into effect on Friday and residents have to fill out an online form that's on the Department of Labrador Affairs web page under MTAP. The form must then be emailed to PAL Airlines.
This new program's funding comes from a $1 million initiative that was part of the provincial budget.
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