04/15/2015 04:33 EDT | Updated 06/26/2015 03:59 EDT

Saskatchewan ambulance trips too costly, legislation needs to change: NDP

REGINA - A Saskatchewan man says his $1,200 ambulance bill included charges for a return trip that was also used to transfer another patient.

Calvin Vollet said an ambulance took him from Regina to Saskatoon in February when there were complications during a kidney procedure.

Vollet said the ambulance picked up another patient in Saskatoon before returning to Regina, but he was still charged for 75 per cent of the trip. If the other patient hadn't been picked up, he would have been charged for the entire return trip, he said.

"That would have made my bill even higher," he said.

Opposition NDP Leader Cam Broten said double-billing is allowed under current legislation and raised Vollet's case in Wednesday's question period as an example of why the fee structure should be revised.

There is no cap on ambulance fees in Saskatchewan and a pickup costs $245 or $325, depending on the region, plus $2.30 per kilometre.

Vollet said he believes his private health insurance will reimburse him for about 80 per cent of the bill. But that won't help many families on fixed incomes, he said.

"That's a big bill. That's a lot of money."

Broten has said Saskatchewan has one of the worst records for ambulance fees in the country.

He said it's the only province that charges for ambulance transfers between hospitals and it's one of two provinces, along with Quebec, that doesn't have a capped rate.

"Calvin still had to pay that return trip portion of the fee and that just defies common sense," Broten said. "It's about having a structure and program in place that is fair for the patients."

Ambulance rates vary across Canada. In New Brunswick, patients without private insurance are eligible for free services; in Ontario, patients are charged $45 for medically necessary trips within the province; in Manitoba fees depend on the area, but in Winnipeg, basic service is capped at $512.

Health Minister Dustin Duncan has said ambulance fees are heavily subsidized and 71 per cent of the cost is borne by taxpayers.

He said the legislation that resulted in Vollet's bill was passed in the late 1980s.

"It's reasonable to have a re-look at this policy," he said. "It is outdated."

The legislation was meant to provide an incentive to ambulance services to better co-ordinate their trips, he added.

"At this time we don't have a plan to make a change to that policy," he said.