RavenLaw gratefully acknowledges the contribution of this post by summer student Emily Cumbaa

A recent case before the Ontario Divisional Court examined ODSP’s reimbursement rate for medical travel. After many years of receiving reimbursement that only covered their operational travel costs, Ontarians who are on disability support can now seek reimbursement at a rate that covers both operational and ownership costs associated with their travel for medical treatments, such as appointments with out-of-town specialists. The case and the subsequent policy changes reveal that advancements in disability rights are slow, uneven, and hard-won.

The Case

Wayne Corrigan is a recipient of benefits under the Ontario Disability Support Program (“ODSP”), Ontario’s program providing income and other financial supports for individuals with a disability. Mr. Corrigan frequently travels between Oshawa and Toronto for specialized medical treatments.

A Regulation under the Ontario Disability Support Program Act states that benefits will be paid for “the cost of transportation that is reasonably required in any month for medical treatment for members of the benefit unit… if the cost of that transportation in the month is $15 or more” (O. Reg. 222/98, s. 44(1)1(iii.1)).  Under ODSP policy, Mr. Corrigan could only be reimbursed for his medical travel at the rate of $0.18 per kilometre. However, Mr. Corrigan estimated that his actual travel costs were $0.45 per kilometre.

Mr. Corrigan asked ODSP to review its rate and reimburse him at the rate of $0.45 per kilometre. ODSP denied that request, and also denied an internal review. Mr. Corrigan then appealed to the Social Benefits Tribunal. The Tribunal denied Mr. Corrigan’s appeal.

The Tribunal relied on its reasoning from an earlier decision, which also denied extra reimbursement, distinguishing between operational and ownership costs associated with a vehicle. The Tribunal found that the phrase “cost of transportation” in the legislation included only operational, and not ownership costs.

Mr. Corrigan appealed the Tribunal’s decision to the Ontario Divisional Court. In October 2016, the Court ruled that limiting reimbursement for medical travel to only “operational” expenses was unreasonable. The Court sent the matter back to the Tribunal “for redetermination of the reasonable costs of transportation,” and emphasized both operational and ownership costs can be included in costs of transportation.

A quick note for everyone who is interested in administrative law: the Court found that the appropriate standard of review was reasonableness, despite both parties agreeing that correctness was the appropriate standard. The Court’s finding reinforces that administrative tribunals are owed substantial deference, even on a statutory appeal as opposed to an application for judicial review.

The Government’s Response

In January 2017, the Ontario government increased the mileage rate for medical travel to $0.41 per kilometre in the North and Northeast Regions of Ontario, and $0.40 per kilometre everywhere else in the province. This represents an increase of more than 220%. The medical travel mileage rates are retroactive to October 1, 2016.

The new rates also apply for self-employed persons on ODSP if they use their personal car for business travel to generate income. The business travel rates are not retroactive, and therefore came into effect on January 9, 2017.

The Takeaway

This case and the subsequent policy changes highlight that advancements in disability rights are:

  1. slow;
  2. uneven; and
  3. hard-won.

Advancements are slow. When the new increases were announced, the rates for medical travel had not changed in 17 years. In that time, the cost of driving had increased substantially, largely driven by gas prices. The Social Benefits Tribunal had more than once denied an increase to the rate for medical travel.

Advancements are uneven. The Divisional Court noted that other programs paid higher rates for medical travel than ODSP. The rate increase also applies to Ontario Works recipients. But before the increase took effect, every municipality in the province was responsible for setting their own rate, creating differences across the province.

Advancements are hard-won. ODSP and the Tribunal were both reluctant to review and increase the medical travel rate.  It is not surprising, therefore, that the Income Advocacy Support Centre reported that the rate increases were the result of years of advocacy work. This work included legal supports, a letter to the Minister, and collaboration between community and advocacy groups.

Thankfully for people on ODSP who must travel with their car for medical reasons, they can now be reimbursed at a rate that reflects their actual travel costs.

[This article is for informational purposes only and does not constitute legal advice, which cannot be given without consideration of your individual circumstances.]