The Government of Nunavut has been put between a rock and a hard place by medical funding being offered by the federal government.

As the Non-insured Health Benefits program — which covers medical travel — with the federal government reaches the end of its contract amid Covid-19, Health Minister George Hickes has indicated he does not wish to re-sign the “longstanding program.”

“I will not be signing a contribution agreement and the responsibility will go back to the federal government,” Hickes said in the legislative assembly on March 12.

The reason for his reluctance falls on a federal government that has not been pulling its own weight with the program, leaving tax-paying Nunavummiut to pick up the bill.

It has been reported that in the last fiscal year that the GN has contributed $77 million while the feds have only covered $3.7 million, a mere drop in the “bottomless bucket” of medical air travel, as Arviat North-Whale Cove MLA John Main has described it.

The federal government is saying that number spikes to $49.5 million once accommodations and ground transportation is taken into account, but there are still shortcomings considering the critical need for this travel and its ever-increasing cost.
Despite the GN’s efforts to obtain more compensation, Indigenous Services Minister Marc Miller recently gave word that federal co-payments will only increase by “a very marginal amount” and Hickes is considering the matter unresolved.

Those funds, however, are especially crucial now as Covid-19 tightens its grips on Canada and inches closer and closer to Nunavut.

The territory has only received $516,000 out of the $500 million federal aid money for Covid and that number is based on a per-capita model.

With some of the highest costing and hardest to deliver health care in the country, the government might as well have given the territory beads and tobacco for all that is worth.
Given the very nature of this vast country, lots of land with few people, it is borderline un-Canadian to suggest a per capita funding model is appropriate and this does not even consider the well-documented and persistent heath issues (particularly respiratory in nature) that Nunavummiut face.

The federal government has not declared northern air-travel to be essential either, which the president of ITK, Nathan Obed, is calling for because northern airlines are critical to the health-care system.

“Any delays in this system due to significantly reduced flight schedules poses a significant risk to Inuit health and well-being,” said Obed, speaking about air travel to 51 Inuit communities in Canada.

Currently, airlines are struggling to keep themselves afloat in the North as they reduce their flights in order to cut costs as passenger numbers plummet.
Through due diligence, persistence and luck Covid-19 has not reared its ugly head in Nunavut — yet.

Until the federal government takes its responsibilities to the North more seriously and proactively provides it with the support Northerners need, it is gambling with lives.

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