This case involves Alberta Health, Alberta Health Services (AHS) and Indigenous Services Canada’s First Nations and Inuit Health Branch (FNHIB) (previously Health Canada). As background, in 2015 an Indigenous woman required ambulance services. She believed that as an Indigenous person she was exempt from paying the costs. Her understanding was based at least in part on an Alberta Health website excerpt, which stated, “Health Canada pays the user fee for emergency medical services for First Nations people.” The woman acknowledged receiving a bill in 2015, but did not pay it because she did not think she had to.
Five years later, AHS sent a bill for several hundred dollars to collections. The woman was unable to renew her mortgage as she had a “debt” in collections. The Ombudsman’s relationship to AHS is through the Patient Concerns Resolution Process (PCRP). PCRP explained AHS sent the bill to the woman in 2015 because no one in the province, including seniors and Indigenous people, is ‘exempt’ from receiving an emergency medical services (EMS) bill. Anyone who uses EMS services will receive a bill. There is fine print on the bill that states you must contact AHS – EMS Accounts Receivable if you believe you have coverage for the bill. This is not clear on the Alberta Health website. After reaching out to a communications advisor with Alberta Health, they agreed its website could be clearer.
For the complainant, the Ombudsman’s office confirmed both that a manager within EMS Accounts Receivable was reviewing the woman’s situation and that she had the opportunity to seek further information directly from FNHIB. The Ombudsman does not have jurisdiction to investigate AHS or FNHIB decisions or the final outcome but as a result of the early resolution approach everyone contacted took the action they could to move forward.