Surgeries slated overseas, but province won’t foot bill


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ANOTHER Manitoban has gone to Lithuania for surgery, rather than wait months or even years for a local knee replacement operation.

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Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 03/02/2022 (238 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

ANOTHER Manitoban has gone to Lithuania for surgery, rather than wait months or even years for a local knee replacement operation.

Meanwhile, retiree Max Johnson, who got his left knee replaced last year at the same Lithuanian facility on his own dime, has been told by the provincial government it is not going to reimburse him for the procedure.

Betty Craig, 71, returned to Winnipeg almost two weeks ago, after getting her right knee replaced at the Nordorthopaedics Clinic.

MIKAELA MACKENZIE / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS FILES Max Johnson after coming back from Lithuania in November, where he underwent knee surgery.

“I was actually surprised we considered it, but then we talked to Max,” she said Wednesday. “If I could shorten the pain I was having I would do it. We’re lucky we could afford to do it — but some people can’t.

“I didn’t want to give up two years of activity waiting for surgery.”

Doctors Manitoba has estimated more than 155,000 Manitobans are waiting for surgery and diagnostic tests.

The province has created a task force looking at ways of reducing the massive backlog which has built up, due in part to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Craig was originally referred by her doctor in September 2020 for a knee replacement. She finally saw a surgeon in July 2021.

“He said what would have been a nine-month wait is now an 18-month wait,” said her husband, John. “Then we were told it could be 21 months or more. That’s when we started looking for alternatives. We’re in our 70s and didn’t want to lose two years.

“It was clear the only to end the pain was to go somewhere else.”

The couple first looked in Canada, but then, after speaking to Johnson, they decided to go to Lithuania.

It cost 8,000 euros (more than $11,000), and a further 1,500 euros for both of them to stay at the rehabilitation clinic.

“That’s compared to $30,000 at the clinic in Calgary with no rehab,” John said. “It was a significant difference.”

The surgery was performed Jan. 6 and the couple were home Jan. 21. They praised both the physicians at the Lithuanian clinic and the results.

“I have been in pain for years, and now the only pain I have is (post-) surgery pain and I know the surgery pain will go away,” Craig said.

When they are able to travel internationally for pleasure again, “it will be nice to not have to worry if a trip will be too active because of her knee,” her husband said.

“In hindsight, we should have gone earlier.”

Johnson, who sent the province his $14,000 bill for knee surgery in November, said he received a rejection email from Manitoba Health and Seniors Care this week.

“Mostly, I am angry,” said the former owner of a local travel agency. “Angry because the system that we have all paid into failed us — the waiting list — when we needed it, and the government seems content to leave us all in pain.

“Obviously, travelling overseas is not a long-term solution. However, by taking personal responsibility, removing ourselves from the waiting list and solving our problems individually, we are punished. It really makes the system available only to the wealthy, which is wrong,” Johnson said.

“Two- or three-year waiting lists are wrong, simply wrong.”

The rejection email says to get payment under the Health Services Insurance Act, a patient has to be a referral from a doctor, the treatment can’t be “adequately provided in Manitoba or elsewhere in Canada,” and there must be prior approval.

“Should a patient proceed with elective medical services outside of Canada without the prior approval of MHSC, the excluded services regulation precludes MHSC from providing coverage,” said the email.

Johnson said he is “extremely angry” that, after three months of waiting, he received only a form letter.

“My issues were simply swept aside and ignored,” he said.

“Our government is completely out of touch, has no plan for a solution to their own cutbacks… leaving everyone in a very, very painful position.

“They simply don’t seem to care.”

Kevin Rollason

Kevin Rollason

Kevin Rollason is one of the more versatile reporters at the Winnipeg Free Press. Whether it is covering city hall, the law courts, or general reporting, Rollason can be counted on to not only answer the 5 Ws — Who, What, When, Where and Why — but to do it in an interesting and accessible way for readers.

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