The health unit in Labrador, Newfoundland, Canada, can no longer afford to fly patients from isolated communities to their orthodontic appointments, according to an article published in [removed]CBC News[/removed]. The Labrador-Grenfell Regional Health Authority had been subsidizing the flights of a few patients who needed to go from southern Labrador to Happy Valley-Goose Bay to see their orthodontist.

According to Boyd Rowe, CEO of the health authority, the number of patients who want to use the service has increased to between 10 and 15 patients, and it has become too costly for the health authority to cover everyone’s flights. Adding to the cost is the fact that many of the patients are children and need to travel with an escort, said Rowe.

For every plane ticket that the health authority subsidizes, the patient pays $40, and the health authority covers the rest of the cost, which can amount to hundreds of dollars, according to Rowe. The health authority, a provincially funded body, does not have its own planes, so it uses commercial flights and pays the going rate.

It was never the health unit’s responsibility to cover travel to orthodontic appointments, Rowe noted. Orthodontics, unlike regular medical appointments and hospital visits, is not a service covered by provincial health insurance.

"What we have said is orthodontics services and travel access is something that is the responsibility of the clients and families," Rowe said. "We’ve had a number of concerns, but we haven’t been able to offer any alternatives."

The orthodontist splits his time between Happy Valley-Goose Bay and Corner Brook in Newfoundland. In the summer months, southern Labrador patients get to their appointments on their own by taking the ferry across the Strait of Belle Isle and driving to the Corner Brook office. But in the winter, the ferry doesn’t run, meaning patients have to fly to either Corner Brook or Happy Valley-Goose Bay.

"We won’t be able to afford the trips," said Mary Ann Snow, the mother of Suzanna, a patient who is unable to access the orthodontist in the winter. "I guess Suzanna’s braces will have to stay as they are until we can get to the doctor."