Rural med expenses 'unfair'

When Anne Tansey Rouleau was faced with a cancer diagnosis in Osoyoos several years ago, she had no idea about the extra costs of treatment she would be facing as a rural resident.

Rouleau, a senior citizen who now lives in Penticton, had to travel for her treatments to large hospital centres like Kelowna and Vancouver.

She expected to be able to recoup her expenses on her tax return, but discovered that since she had not worked during the time of her treatment, she would not be reimbursed. 

Under current law, travel costs are deductible from taxes payable only in the year the costs are incurred. This means a person who doesn't work during a time period in which they are undergoing treatment may not be eligible for reimbursement, due to their unemployment placing them in a lower tax bracket. 

According to Rouleau, this is only a problem for rural residents who need to travel great distances to get their treatment. 

"It's a catch-22 in the Canadian system," Rouleau said. "It's a direct loss and it penalizes only those who live in rural areas, and that seems to me to create a two-tier medical system."

In October 2017, Rouleau started a petition to the House of Commons to modify the existing Income Tax Act to allow medical travel costs to be deducted against future tax returns, instead of just the current year. On February 23, she achieved the required 500 signatures to allow the petition to go before the house. 

Her local MP Richard Cannings, South Okanagan-West Kootenay, took up the cause, presenting the petition to the house on March 2. 

The final petition presented to the house had 529 signatures from citizens across Canada. It claims that existing income tax laws are unfair to rural dwellers and seniors. 

Rouleau said the support her petition saw from provinces as far away as Newfoundland made her certain she had done the right thing in bringing the issue forward.

"It is an unfair thing that half of Canada who live close to medical centres don't even face this problem, they're not even aware of it," Rouleau said. "I just want to right the wrong."


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