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Mark Rendell

City Brief: Should City Reduce Ambulance Fees?

Council to consider whether $225 for YK residents is too high

A move to reduce ambulance fees in Yellowknife was proposed on Monday by Coun. Adrian Bell.

“For me, this is a compassionate city and we need to lessen the burden for people going through traumatic events in their lives,” Bell said during yesterday’s Municipal Services Committee meeting. He indicated that he would be bringing forward a motion to lower ambulance fees sometime the near future.

Currently Yellowknife residents pay $225 for ambulance services and NWT residents from outside Yellowknife pay $350; non-residents of the territory are looking at a $400 bill.

“This was brought to my attention by a resident who had, quite frankly, a pretty horrific situation with a seven-month-old child and received an invoice for ambulance service and was taken back by the price,” said Bell, adding that, “this is really a conversation about how much of the cost should be borne by the user and how much should be subsidized by taxpayers.”

Ambulance rates vary widely across the country. According to data mapped by the CBC in 2015, B.C. charges provincial residents $50 if treated on scene and $80 if transported to the hospital; Alberta charges $250 if treated on scene and $385 if transported to the hospital. In the Yukon, people do not have to pay anything out-of-pocket.

These numbers, however, don’t tell the entire story. In B.C., for example, people not resident in the province have to pay upwards of $545 to use an ambulance, said Dennis Marchiori, the City’s director of public safety. And the apparent low cost for B.C. residents is partly due to the monthly B.C. medical services payments everyone must make. In the Yukon, the territorial government, not the municipalities, pays for ambulance services. But according to Coun. Niels Konge, “they’re looking pretty hard at how they deliver those services because of the costs.”

In Yellowknife, ambulance services are already heavily subsidized. According to Marchiori, the fire department, which runs the ambulances, takes in around $1 million a year in revenues, which “is nowhere near any form of cost recovery.”

“Our O&M for the fire division is almost $5 million, and that does not include any of the capital expenses which include the building, the equipment, the apparatus and the ambulances.”

The issue did not receive much discussion yesterday, as a motion hasn’t yet come forward.Konge for his part, remained skeptical: “I’m of the opinion that it’s a service that in a lot of instances [costs] are paid by third-party insurance. In the cases where it’s not, whoever is using the service pays a percentage of what the actual cost is, so I don’t think I have a problem with the way we’re currently doing this.”

Admin agreed to come back to council after looking at cost recovery rates, types of ambulance calls and the percentage of invoices that have been typically covered by third-party insurance companies. Mayor Mark Heyck ended the discussion with a word of caution: “During this calendar and fiscal year, if council was to direct changes then that could have an impact on other areas of the budget or on tax rates.”