No Leg To Stand On: Ontario’s Assistive Devices Program is Failing Amputees
By Brian N. Forbes, Chairman of The War Amps Executive Committee and Annelise Petlock, War Amps Advocacy Program Manager
May 8, 2018 – It’s been called by some a tiny band-aid on a gaping wound. Grossly outdated provincial funding guidelines for artificial limbs in Ontario are leaving many of the province’s amputees in desperate circumstances, literally unable to afford a leg to stand on.
We are certain that most Ontarians would be shocked to know that if they or a family member lose a limb, they could be faced with a personal balance of thousands of dollars for even the most basic artificial limb that will restore only a semblance of their previous function.
Provincial funding for artificial limbs through Ontario’s Assistive Devices Program is quoted (and requoted) as covering 75 per cent of the total cost of artificial limbs. A comforting thought, until one realizes that the twenty-year old funding grid this is based upon covers technology that is outdated and obsolete, while failing to cover the cost of modern-day essential components.
The result is that amputees — if they have the means – must pay thousands of dollars out of pocket to have the proper artificial limbs that have been medically prescribed for them. Those who can’t, and there are many, have few alternatives.
For many, crowdfunding has proven necessary, a veritable canary in the coal mine pointing to a shameful state of affairs for the province’s healthcare system. It is also only a stop-gap solution, given that amputees will understandably be reluctant or simply unable to repeatedly appeal to friends and family for the subsequent replacement limbs they will need during their lifetime. It is unimaginable in the 21st century that seriously disabled amputees would have to rely on their families and communities in this way to cope with the basic financial requirements of an artificial limb.
This gap in Ontario’s standard of care means that many Ontarians who have already suffered the loss of a limb are further penalized with punishing and ongoing debt, or with the physical and psychological consequences of going without the needed artificial limb. To add further salt to the wound, had their needed prosthesis been an internal one — like a knee or hip replacement — the government would, without question, pay the thousands of dollars required for the needed components, plus the full hospitalization.
The War Amps attempts to fill the gaps where it can, contributing thousands of dollars toward the cost of artificial limbs. As a charity relying on public donations, however, our funds can only go so far. Daily, we see the impact of Ontario’s lack of funding for artificial limbs. Many amputees suffer isolation and enforced sedentary lifestyles, are often unable to work which requires reliance on disability and government benefits and can develop life-threatening medical conditions related to their lack of mobility.
Limb loss is rare, affecting only a small segment of the population. Studies show that when a person receives the artificial limb they need, their overall cost of care decreases, which reduces the demand on a strained healthcare system.
We see Ontario’s upcoming election as a timely occasion to draw to attention the fact that the province has a legal and moral obligation to review and update its policies to ensure that those suffering from limb loss have affordable access to the prosthetic care prescribed for them by their medical team. It’s not just the right thing to do — given the choice to “pay now or pay later,” it is simply good economics.
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