Various GN departments required more money for their operations and maintenance in 2018-19, totalling $17.8 million.
Finance Minister George Hickes explained Wednesday that the Department of Finance would absorb $5.5 million on behalf of all government departments to account for employee and retirement benefits.
Community and Government Services required $2.8 million due to oversights on previous years spending and not taking into consideration higher utility rates.
The Department of Health needed $9.4 million more. That followed an additional $40 million that was approved in March, bringing the GN’s health budget up to $432.7 million. There was higher than anticipated spending on health staff and various expenses. Medical travel was the single biggest extra expense, however, at an additional $5.4 million.
The latter item elicited a number of questions from MLAs in regards to how the GN can reduce medical travel costs. Hickes said his department is always aiming to streamline those costs and recently signed a medical and duty travel agreement with the airlines.
“In general, most communities went down, some communities did go up, but it is a community-by-community basis. I would say that overall the rates went down,” Hickes said of the new medical travel deal.
He also pointed out that the government revised its medical travel policy to allow breastfeeding mothers to take their children with them on medical trips. That raises the fees paid to boarding homes.
Hickes said patients who don’t show up for flights represent a significant cost and those patients are a concern.
“It has been raised to me a couple of times from airline executives what a challenge that is when they are trying to schedule their flights and the amount of seats that are available on a plane, they may be turning away passengers because medical travel is a priority going to an appointment. They may be turning away passengers and then we have medical travel patients that do not show up. Those are seats the airline could have sold,” said Hickes.
Aggu MLA Paul Quassa said the Department of Health has also sent some patients south for treatment but failed to book appointments, which also represents a waste of money. Hickes acknowledged that but said he’s still trying to determine how often those sort of incidents have occurred.