Time to end ambulance hesitancy in Nova Scotia

Ambulance fees are being temporarily waived in Nova Scotia after the province’s chief medical officer of health made a startling admission Monday.

“Over the weekend there were a number of positive cases, that when first contacted by public health, needed an immediate call for an ambulance,” Dr. Robert Strang said during that day’s COVID-19 briefing. “In some cases, people did not call 911 because they were unable to pay the ambulance fee.”

For most Nova Scotians, that ambulance fee is $146.55.

That’s a lot of money in a province with one of the lowest minimum wages in the country, shamefully high poverty levels and pitiful income assistance rates.

The provincial NDP has repeatedly called for the elimination of ambulance fees, including in a recently introduced private member’s bill.

Meanwhile, an online petition launched by a high school student last year has been signed by more than 21,000 people.

While not specifically mandated in the Canada Health Act, universal no-cost ambulance service is certainly in keeping with the spirit of the legislation.

“It is hereby declared that the primary objective of Canadian health care policy is to protect, promote and restore the physical and mental well-being of residents of Canada and to facilitate reasonable access to health services without financial or other barriers,” the Act states.

And it’s not as if Nova Scotia would take a massive revenue hit if it were to abolish ambulance fees, which are already subsidized by government.

The province collected less than $14 million in fees last year, a miniscule amount compared to the $11.7 billion in total revenue it’s expecting this year.

Health Minister Zach Churchill has indicated there will be an “ongoing discussion” about ambulance fees and that the government will look at “ways that we can further enhance access.”

But while “discussion” is always welcome, action is what Nova Scotians need and deserve.

People of modest economic means struggled with ambulance fees before the pandemic, causing untold numbers to avoid visiting an emergency room.

There is no doubt some of them suffered worse health outcomes as a result of this ambulance hesitancy.

It doesn’t matter if Premier Iain Rankin abolishes ambulance fees because it’s the right thing to do, or because, with an election only months away, it’s the politically expedient thing to do.

The important thing is that no Nova Scotian has to worry again about being able to afford a trip to the hospital.

(Photo: http://www.novascotia.ca)