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Travel grant increase gets mixed review

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News last week that the province will give more money to those in Northwestern Ontario who have to travel for medical treatment has been greeted by mixed reviews.

“The changes announced [Thursday] to the Northern Health Grant Program will greatly improve our ability to provide access to our current citizens and market the area to new residents or businesses,” noted Tanis Drysdale, president of the Northwestern Ontario Association Chambers of Commerce (NOACC).

“The long-term goal is, of course, to have access to all medical care available as close to home as possible, but this is a great stride forward,” she added.

The increase will double the amount residents will receive for trips to and from major care centres.

Trips from Thunder Bay to Toronto will increase to $907.63 from $419.38, for instance, while one from Timmins to North Bay will jump from $112.85 to $219.20.

Locally, many residents have had to travel to Thunder Bay for treatment, including chemotherapy, radiation, and dialysis. Mileage for those trips has increased from 30.5 cents/km to 34.25 cents/km, with a 100-km deductible.

And that’s not enough according to Fort Frances resident Ann Watson, a cancer patient who spoke at Queen’s Park in Toronto in a bid to receive more funding for the ill in Northwestern Ontario.

“There’s still people that have to travel here to Thunder Bay for radiation and that’s not nearly enough for food and accommodation,” said Watson.

“It’s good news, we appreciate it, but this is just the beginning of the battle,” she stressed.

Watson said patients in southern Ontario who have to travel north for treatment receive much more financial assistance--a lack of fairness the Ontario Ombudsman highlighted earlier this year and what the NDP have labelled health care “apartheid.”

“I’d like them to set up an advisory committee to look at what we need in the north,” said Watson. “I want them to look at when the Ombudsperson looked at it--he said it’s totally unfair.

“You’ve got to understand in southern Ontario, they paid food, housing, and they paid for a companion,” she added.

NDP leader Howard Hampton (Kenora-Rainy River) and Nickel Belt MPP Shelley Martel had been putting pressure on the Harris government to re-imburse cancer patients in Northern Ontario for “discriminatory” underfunding.

They brought several specific cases to the Legislature and see last week’s announcement as an admission of unfair treatment.

“[Thursday’s] announcement is nothing less than a stinging admission by the Mike Harris government that it has treated the northern patients like second-class citizens,” Hampton said last week.

“Let me say that this does not end, does not change, and does not justify this government’s discrimination against northern cancer patients,” added Martel.

“I want everyone to understand New Democrats will not rest until this government agrees to treat northern cancer patients in the same way it has treated southern cancer patients,” she stressed.

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