Some border-town Manitobans have U.S. medical bills repaid, others left in debt – Manitoba

At least two border-town Manitobans have had massive U.S. medical bills repaid after months of stress and financial uncertainty, but one of their neighbours says the province has left her in the dark and in the red.

“They should pay my bill, no doubt, because it was an emergency and I should get treated the same as everybody else,” said Verna Kittleson, 62, who was left with thousands in medical bills from an emergency stay in Grand Forks, N.D., in 2015. 

‘It’s not about one or two or five people’s bills, it is about everybody in our community’
Verna Kittleson

The Manitoba government has a long-standing health coverage arrangement that permits residents in border towns including Sprague, four kilometres north of the U.S. border, to access emergency health care at two Minnesota hospitals. The Altru Agreement allows people like Robin Milne, Andrew Thiessen and Kittleson to seek emergency care at facilities in Roseau and Warroad, Minn., and have the costs covered.

Milne, Thiessen and Kittleson have all been rushed to hospital in Roseau in the past few years only to be rerouted by Minnesota health officials to Grand Forks, where they weren’t technically covered.

After suffering a heart attack in October 2016 and ultimately receiving treatment in Grand Forks, N.D., the province told Milne, 60, he would have to foot the $118,000 in bills for the emergency stay because he didn’t receive his care at the covered Minnesota hospitals.

Robert Milne has had all of his U.S. medical bills covered after months of push back against the Manitoba government, which initially refused to pay for his emergency costs in Grand Forks, N.D. (Lyzaville Sale/CBC)

In March, Manitoba Health Minister Kelvin Goertzen changed his tune and said about $64,000 in Milne’s hospital bills had been paid. On Wednesday, Milne heard more good news: a provincial official called saying the remaining $48,000 for an emergency flight from Roseau to Grand Forks had also been covered.

“It was awesome,” Milne said. “Both my wife and I … we were just so happy about that and so thankful it’s over.”

‘Very Thankful’

Thiessen, 69, died in April but lived just long enough to see his bills covered, too. 

“He was very thankful,” his wife, Diane Thiessen, said on Thursday. “We knew we were in the right.”

The Thiessens had to sell land they hoped to pass down to their children after being hit with $40,000 in medical bills when Andrew received emergency kidney treatment in Grand Forks in 2015.

Andrew Thiessen’s U.S. medical bill was paid a few weeks before he died. (CBC)

But Kittleson said she hasn’t heard a thing from the province about similar bills she was saddled with a couple of years ago.

“I just assumed when they were dealing with Robin’s they were going to be dealing with all of the past people who were sent to Grand Forks,” said Kittleson, adding she is happy for the Milnes and Thiessens but doesn’t understand…

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