Some PEI parties say they will make virtual healthcare free as federal agencies try to crack down on the fees

Maple's virtual care program allows islanders to consult with a physician via text, phone, or video conferencing.  (Carolyn Ryan/CBC - photo credit)

Maple’s virtual care program allows islanders to consult with a physician via text, phone, or video conferencing. (Carolyn Ryan/CBC – photo credit)

Some political parties on PEI have promised to make virtual health care free for all islanders if they form a government.

But that’s a step the province may be forced to take, regardless of the election result.

The federal health minister has sent a letter to all states saying they must prevent patients from being billed for medically necessary care, including virtual care.

Jean-Yves Duclos said in the letter the practice went against the spirit and intent of Canada’s Public Health Act.

Submitted by Courtney Massey

Submitted by Courtney Massey

The minister warned Ottawa against reclaiming government health transfer payments to provinces that aren’t listening.

This is music to Courtney Massey’s ears.

The mother-of-four said she was recently using the virtual app Maple when she felt unwell. She called her experience “amazing.”

“I tried every possible outlet. I tried my own doctor, couldn’t get in there. I tried walk-in clinics, I couldn’t get in there,” she said.

“All I can do is sit in [the emergency department]which will only clog… I shouldn’t be there because obviously people have much bigger problems, but I have to handle it as well.

David Donnelly/CBC

David Donnelly/CBC

After waiting three hours in the ER, someone asked if she had tried the Maple app. The person told her it’s free for people without a GP, but you can pay for it if you already have one.

“I was like I was sitting in the hospital and I signed up for this Maple app and I saw a nurse, got a prescription. And the call was over in about eight minutes, start to finish,” she said.

She paid $69 for the consultation.

“I would have paid about $200 just to get treatment and feel better. At that point, I wasn’t feeling very well.”

where the parties are

The health secretary’s letter came just days after progressive Conservative leader Dennis King vowed to make virtual care free for everyone.

On Friday, King said the province’s healthcare system is evolving.

“I would wholeheartedly agree that health care needs to be public. It has to be publicly funded. And that’s how we’ll always approach it here at PEI,” he said.

“We started out by offering the Maple app. I call it a pressure relief valve to take some pressure off our healthcare system. The next step for us has always been to ensure it is deployed maintenance free.”

The Greens have also pledged to bring virtual peace of mind to all islanders.

And the NDP wants to go one step further. They said they would make virtual grooming fully public so taxpayer money doesn’t go to private companies like Maple.

The Liberals have not said anything specific about who should pay for or provide virtual care. But the party has announced plans to expand its services.

Charging patients doesn’t violate the law, the department says

Meanwhile, in an email to CBC, the health department said there was no need to respond to Ottawa’s warning letter.

The department said charging islanders who have a GP for virtual care does not violate the spirit or intent of Canada’s Public Health Act.

But Massey said she agrees with the federal health secretary.

“They pay for healthcare with taxes. So technically, we’re already paying for healthcare. I don’t think we’ll have to pay for it beyond that,” she said.

“And why is it only free for people who don’t have a doctor? I know it’s difficult to get a doctor here and I’m very thankful to have a family doctor. But they can be extremely difficult to get in.”

Massey added that with walk-in clinics filling up in no time, islanders could not do much more to access the care they need.


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