It’s been several months since Sharon McLean had to auction off Christmas gifts and household items to pay for her daughter’s trip to St. John’s for a dental procedure.
The North West River mom is still waiting for reimbursement from the government.
In January, McLean learned her seven-year-old daughter, Raven, would need two fillings, two teeth pulled, and another capped. Unfortunately, pediatric dental services are rarely available in Labrador, so Mclean and Raven had to fly to LOL Dental in St. John’s. The cost exceeded $2,000, round trip.
McLean assumed she would be a shoo-in for reimbursement from the province’s Medical Travel Assistance Program (MTAP), since she was forced to fly out of Labrador for Raven’s procedure.
Instead, she received a letter saying funding for Raven's trip was denied. She was informed procedures are not publicly insured by the province, and only procedures covered by MCP or the Newfoundland and Labrador Hospital Insurance Plan qualify for travel assistance.
“I really still do not understand why I was refused… in my mind it was a procedure that she needed to have done, that’s not offered here…” said McLean.
A Facebook auction brought in $2,500 for the trip, with McLean putting up recent Christmas gifts and donations from the community.
“It made me feel bad because some of these were just given to me at Christmas and, here I am, turning around and selling them at auction.
“It took up every minute of my day for as long as it went on. I couldn’t do anything with Raven because I was too busy.”
McLean became even more perplexed when she received a letter confirming MCP was covering the expense of Raven’s dental procedures, contradicting the rejection from MTAP.
In March, an article was published in The Labradorian detailing the ordeal. The next day, McLean got a phone call from a representative of MHA Perry Trimper. She was told Trimper’s office had been contacted by a health department official, inquiring about her and Raven’s case.
However, nearly two months later, McLean says she has “never heard a peep” since. She plans to keep making phone calls on her own, to figure out whether she will finally be reimbursed.
Even if she does get some money back, McLean says it doesn’t erase the frustration she’s dealt with since January.
“It’s very frustrating. I would love to get my money back.
“The fact I had to auction off so many of my belongings, just to be able to get the money to go there… if I knew I could have gotten the money back, I would have just borrowed the money and than paid the money back when I got reimbursed for it.”
Another woman – a mother from Happy Valley-Goose Bay who asked not to be named – found herself in a similar position this year.
Her 14-year-old son had to have dental surgery in St. John’s last September. After sending off her forms for MTAP reimbursement in December, she was shocked, come February, when she received a denial letter in the mail.
“When I got that I was very, extremely, upset because I was expecting to get (reimbursed) for this,” said the HVGB mother.
“I didn’t know what to think… I spent the whole evening crying because I spent so much money for this.”
The trip had already cost her a lot of money she wouldn’t get back. Since her son was over the age of 12, MCP didn’t cover the cost of the actual procedure, which was $1,000.
It looked now as though the $2,600 she spent for her and her son’s two-way flight would also be out of pocket.
After phone calls to MTAP officials, and providing more information about her son’s dental procedure, the HVGB woman says she was told her claim was approved. As of mid-May, however, she still doesn’t know when to expect her money, or how much she will get back. Like McLean, she has been left frustrated and confused about how the MTAP system is supposed to work.
“I’m not even sure how it really works still. It’s really confusing for me.”
“I know I’m not going to get 100 per cent but at least I’ll get something back.”
Due to the financial and emotional stress, the woman wishes she’d used another option, rather than assuming MTAP would help her.
“It’s been nothing but frustration for me. I wish I’d never dealt with them. Honestly, I should have flown on points because I would have saved money.
“I could have spent $500 for two flight using my points.”
A spokesperson for the Department of Health and Community Services said in a written statement they can’t comment on individual cases due to privacy restrictions. She also said, due to the upcoming election government is operating in “caretaker convention” and can’t make comments to media until the election is over.