The cost of a trip to hospital by ambulance is set to double for some residents.
Town council gave first and second reading June 27 to a bylaw changing the fees users of the emergency medical service. It’s expected to give third and final reading at its next council meeting.
“As a town, we need to find a way to cover our costs,” said Mayor Brad Mapes in an interview, adding the town’s fees were behind what other communities of a similar size charge. The town’s fire department runs the ambulance service with crews on call should someone need transport to hospital or for medevacs.
The town budgeted to spend about $79,000 for the ambulance service operations in 2015, according to Fire Chief Ross Potter. That doesn’t include capital costs, such as the fire hall. It budgeted to receive more than $124,000 in revenue from service fees for the ambulance service, Potter said.
Calls with town limits for residents now cost $225. That would increase to $500 under the new bylaw.
For non-residents, the cost within town limits would jump from $475 to $700.
For calls outside town limits, such as the Hay River Reserve, the cost would increase by $50 to $1,500 plus $2 per kilometre.
The cost can be covered by insurance and those registered as status Indians have trips covered by the federal government.
The fee does not apply for calls inside the municipal boundary for town residents over the age of 65, though that’s a relatively small share of the population.
According to the NWT Bureau of Statistics, in 2015 there were 587 people in the town 60 years of age and older, representing 15.8 per cent of the population.
Should someone not pay the bill, it would eventually become bad debt for the town the mayor said. When that happens, he said the town writes it off and it gets applied as a cost to the general taxpayer.
The town does have a large amount of debt tied to unpaid bills, Mapes said, though he wasn’t able to provide a specific amount.
Last year, the ambulance service was used 356 times, 191 of those to transport someone requiring a medevac or flown into the community needing to go to the hospital, according to figures provided by Potter. The second biggest figure, 130, was for local medical calls.
According to a staff report, the town’s ambulance was used an average of 1.7 times per day in May, which is above average. By the end of that month, there had been 117 medevac calls in 2016.
“We’re on our way to a record year,” Potter said about those calls.
The mayor said the increase was prompted by a review of the fees and a comparison to rates charged in Inuvik and Fort Smith.
When the fee bylaw came to council for first and second reading on June 27, Coun. Roger Candow was the lone vote against the fee change.
“I’m not in favour of doubling the cost for the people who live in Hay River,” Candow said, adding he supported the other changes to fees for out-of-town calls and for non-residents.
Earlier this year a city councillor in Yellowknife proposed lowering the fees for an ambulance in that community.
According to the city’s fees and charges bylaw, city residents pay $225 for an ambulance, rising to $350 for NWT residents from outside the city and to $400 for users not from the territory. There’s also a “medical transfer” fee of $475 plus $75 per hour waiting time for patients coming in by medevac. An ambulance called outside city limits triggers a fee of $1,500 plus $2 per kilometre travelled.
After the issue was initially raised, it has not yet been brought back up again by city council.
– Shane Magee