Millroy: Northern Travel Grant Needs Some Serious Updating

In my column last week in regard to the Northern Health Travel Grant, I left hanging a question about the amounts paid out for accommodation.

Lise Vaugeois (Thunder Bay–Superior North) said she thought the amount travellers were reimbursed for accommodation was $100 a night but only to a maximum of $500.

“We know it costs an awful lot more than that to stay in a hotel these days,” she said. I had a different read, noting the Ontario government’s website says the program offers an accommodation allowance for patients who travel a one-way distance of at least 100 kilometres and submit original accommodation receipts in their name or as a guest. Those who find it necessary to spend more than one night out-of-town may be eligible for “additional accommodation allowance.”

It says the additional accommodation allowance for each treatment trip will be determined as follows: $100 per night up to two nights; $250 for three nights; $500 for four-seven nights; $550 for eight or more nights.

I said the key words here were “additional accommodation allowance.” That, to me, said this was a top-up of the original expense.

If that isn’t the case, then I suggested here is a place the language should be cleared up so so it can’t be misinterpreted

Well, it turns out the way I was reading it isn’t the case, as Kathryn Gilmour and her husband can tell you firsthand from their experience with the grant..

“My husband and I have spent a lot of time in Sudbury due to his illness,” she said in an email. “The first night you receive $100 for your hotel room from the northern travel grant. Our hotel provides a medical rate of $150. The second night, the northern travel grant is also $100. On the third night, the grant drops to $50. So by the end of three days we have spent $450 plus applicable taxes and are reimbursed $250.
“The real inequity occurs after five days and up. The maximum you receive is $550 no matter how long your stay. My husband spent almost two weeks in hospital following a major operation in November of 2022. Our hotel bill was $1,600 and our reimbursement was $550.
“This grant is seriously flawed and it is time for an overhaul.”

I began my previous column in regard to this subject by saying I wasn’t about to issue a major complaint in it about the 73-32 defeat in the Ontario Legislature of Algoma–Manitoulin MPP Michael Mantha’s proposed Bill 13, which only asked that a committee be formed to review the Northern Health Travel Grant Advisory Committee Act.

But I said I did believe that rather than being brushed aside so lightly, Mantha’s bill should have been given more consideration.

Reading Gilmour’s reply, I now believe it should have been given a lot more consideration. It should have been passed, not defeated, something our MPP, Ross Romano, helped happen with his vote against.
It should be noted that Gilmour’s stays were in Sudbury, where accommodation costs have gone up but not to the extent of some centres where patients from the Sault are sent for treatment.

Take Toronto, for instance. An extensive stay there could be very expensive, so much so that many couldn’t afford it..

Vaugeois had also pointed to the allowance per kilometre driven, which sits at 41 cents, as being too low.
She is right..

The federal government website says reasonable allowance rates for 2024 are: 70 cents per kilometre for the first 5,000 kilometres driven; 64 cents per kilometre driven after that. In the Northwest Territories, Yukon, and Nunavut, there are an additional four cents per kilometer allowed for travel.
From what I can gather, the Ontario government follows the rates prescribed for the lower provinces in conducting its own business. This says to me that it is time Ontario acknowledged that its payment per kilometre in regard to the travel grant is too low and moves to change it, with or without a bill such as Mantha’s.

A 29-cent difference between what government uses itself and what it allows those facing health problems is far too much.

“This proposed legislation seeks to establish yet another advisory committee to have further discussions,” Romano wrote in an email to The Sault Star.

“I believe we need to focus on decisive action to improve the health-care system for northern families.”
I don’t think any of us will disagree with the focus being on improving the health-care system for northern families.

We just don’t see why Romano and those who joined him in defeating Mantha’s bill don’t see that making possible improvements to the Northern Health Travel Grant program is a fit with this.
After all, the word health is right there in the travel-grant program’s heading.

Those partaking in the program may visit any medical specialist, hospital or ministry-funded health care facility in Ontario or Winnipeg (Manitoba) that qualifies.

As I said last week, with the long distances we in the north have to travel we need this program and we use it. It needs some updating.

I say again to those in the legislature, revisit this issue and get it done, right and right now.

One thought on “Millroy: Northern Travel Grant Needs Some Serious Updating

  1. Romano should not have to be begged to take up the cause. He should be fighting for an increase in funding without prodding. Is that not one of his duties as our member…looking out for US?

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