Rural B.C. residents travelling outside their community for medical care averaged $2,200 in out-of-pocket expenses for a single health condition over the last three years, according to a survey by UBC’s Centre for Rural Health Research.
“When I actually saw the number, that blew me away,” said the Centre’s co-director and UBC associate professor Dr. Jude Kornelsen. “That’s a lot of money.”
The findings are no surprise to Valemount resident Bryan Hannis, who estimates his family has incurred tens of thousands of dollars in expenses over the years.
“All of my tests and my wife’s tests are out of town and some of them are multiple appointments per year,” said Hannis.
Whereas people living in urban centres can reasonably access non-urgent care such as specialists’ consultations and diagnostic testing, those living in rural areas often need to travel long distances to receive similar care, according to the Out-of-Pocket Costs for Rural ResidentsWhen Traveling for Health Care report.
“The disproportionate impact of being rural and trying to access specialist services is huge,” said Kornelsen. “Most people who are urban-dwelling don’t realize this.”
Survey participants from across the province (including 26 per cent from the north) were asked to estimate their out-of-pocket spending for one health issue requiring travel outside their community at least once between 2017 and 2020. Seventy-five per cent said they’d traveled between one and six times for a single health issue, racking up expenses for transportation, food, accommodations, lost wages, childcare, as well as, costs for a travel companion. The highest costs were reported by patients living in remote locations and those requiring treatment for chronic conditions.
Like many survey participants, most of the Hannis’ trips relate to specialist consultations or diagnostic testing. “To see a specialist, you have to get a letter from your local clinic stating the tests are not available in your area,” said Hannis. “So you drive to the closest facility that has that test.”
For the Valemount couple, that usually means a drive to Kamloops, Hinton or Edmonton. Like 80 per cent of people surveyed, Hannis and his wife generally travel together regardless of who’s getting health care, which means additional incurred out-of-pocket expenses for the companion.
While Revenue Canada doesn’t allow claims for the costs of a co-traveler, Hannis said the bulk of the couple’s mileage, food and accommodations are usually covered for non-urgent health trips. Such as, a cancer issue for Hannis, which sends him to Kamloops four times a year for testing. Each appointment necessitates a 600-kilometre round trip, plus meals and gas.
More than half the respondents said traveling for health care affected their health negatively.
“Often, you’ve got two elderly people out on the road, driving great distances to access care,” Kornelsen said. “And that seems like…