04/16/2015 04:14 EDT | Updated 07/01/2015 11:59 EDT

Ambulance trips cause financial hardship, fees need to be capped: NDP

REGINA - A Saskatchewan man who is paying off a $1,200 ambulance bill says he would risk death over financial hardship if he needed another ride.

Darrell Meck, 61, said he is paying off the bill in $250 instalments to cover a hospital transfer from Esterhazy to Regina.

"The last thing a person needs to worry about when they have a health problem is finances," he said. "In an ideal world I'd like to see it paid completely."

Meck, who has needed multiple ambulance trips for heart problems, said he has private insurance which will partially reimburse him.

"My biggest concern is actually for other people because I have the luxury of having this," he said. "A person shouldn't have to debate and have to make a decision between health or finances."

The Opposition NDP raised Meck's case in Thursday's question period as an example of why policies on ambulance fees should change.

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

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.

Duncan added that there is help available for low-income families and a seniors cap of $275 per trip.

"We also do encourage people to look at whether ... augmenting the public insurance with private insurance is the right idea for them."

Broten said Saskatchewan has the worst fees in the country. He has been calling for a capped rate and no charge for inter-hospital transfers.

Ambulance rates vary across Canada. In New Brunswick, patients without private insurance are charged $130. In Ontario, patients are charged $45 for medically necessary trips within the province. In Manitoba, fees depend on the area, but basic service is capped at $512 in Winnipeg.

"We clearly see that the ambulance system here in the province needs to be fixed," Broten said.

Note to readers: This is a corrected story. A previous version said New Brunswick doesn't charge patients without private insurance.