New Brunswick

Family gets reprieve from $30,000 medical debt incurred waiting for N.B. Medicare

A Saint Andrews-area family that racked up more than $30,000 in medical debts waiting for New Brunswick Medicare cards has been given a reprieve by the collection agency hired to recoup the debt.

Saint John collection agency puts file on hold

The McGee family moved to New Brunswick from Maine and applied for Medicare cards in October. Since then, they've racked up more than $30,000 in medical bills, which were recently sent to a collection agency. (Submitted by Charlotte McGee)

It's not the New Brunswick Medicare cards that her family has been waiting for, but Charlotte McGee got some good news on Tuesday. 

She said the family has been given a reprieve on the outstanding $30,000 medical bill the province recently sent to a collection agency. 

After the story about her family's nine-month-long wait for Medicare cards was made public on CBC News, McGee got a call from the owner of the collection agency hired to recoup the debt. 

She said he promised to put the account on hold. He told her he had no idea about the backlog of Medicare applications in the province. 

"It's a huge relief, to say the least," McGee said Tuesday.

While they still have "a lot of red tape" to go through, McGee is grateful the family's "personal finances won't be negatively affected now or in the future." 

The McGees applied for New Brunswick Medicare cards in October and have racked up more than $30,000 in medical bills since then, including routine childhood vaccinations, an ER visit for a stomach illness, and mental health care that required hospitalization. 

The family's unpaid medical bills had been sent to Eastern Credit Management, a Saint John-based collection agency. About two weeks ago, the agency told the McGees they had 30 days to either pay in full or provide a Medicare number. If they didn't, they would be reported to a credit-rating agency.

McGee said she's been assured that her report will not be sent to a credit-rating agency at the end of the month.

When reached on Tuesday, the owner of Eastern Credit Management, Tom Creamer, said he was prevented from discussing specific cases because of privacy laws, but he did say his company has the flexibility to work with debtors, and even to put collections on hold. 

"In our industry, we don't know until we actually speak to somebody what the situation is,"  Creamer said. "And typically we will try and work through it with our customers. We don't want to cause somebody undue stress or hardship at all. So if we can help them work through the system, we'll try and do that." 

CBC previously reported that the province is working through a backlog of Medicare applications because of a record number of immigrants settling in New Brunswick and a historic wave of Canadians moving east.

A statement from the Department of Health on Monday said the effective date for Medicare cards can be backdated, making reimbursement possible for eligible services.

But in the meantime, unpaid bills such as those the McGees faced, are sent to collection agencies.

On Tuesday, McGee said she and her husband, a nurse who used to live in New Brunswick, had been questioning their decision to move to the province from Maine. But after going public with their story, McGee said they were heartened by the outpouring of support from New Brunswickers — some even reaching out to offer to help pay their outstanding medical bills. 

McGee said they aren't taking any money, but the offers have helped quell their second thoughts about moving here.  

"The response to the article really assuaged our fears there, and made us feel like, yes, it is going to be OK. We just have to give it some time. The people here are good, even if the provincial government is dragging their feet on it."

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Mia Urquhart is a journalist with CBC New Brunswick, based in Saint John. She can be reached at mia.urquhart@cbc.ca.

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