Nunavut’s health and finance minister felt so strongly about the territorial government being underfunded through the Non-Insured Health Benefits (NIHB) program that he refused to sign an extension at the end of March.

Health Minister George Hickes has been outspoken about what he deems as the longstanding “inequity” of the Non-Insured Health Benefits program. The Government of Nunavut, seeking full reimbursement for NIHB medical travel, has yet to negotiate new terms with Ottawa two months after the previous deal expired.
photo courtesy of the GN

Two months later, the Government of Nunavut and Ottawa still haven’t come to terms on a new deal and the status quo remains.

Discussions between the parties have taken place but no new agreement has been signed, indicates a statement from the Department of Health on Wednesday.

The GN is demanding full reimbursement for NIHB, which represents approximately 89 per cent of airline medical travel and costs the GN close to $78 million annually, according to Hickes. He previously stated that the Government of Canada only compensated the GN $3.7 million for the program during the last fiscal year.

A federal government spokesperson previously told Nunavut News that the figure for 2018-19 was actually $49.5 million but that included patient accommodations and ground transportation.

Indigenous Services Canada spokesperson Rola Tfaili sent a statement Wednesday acknowledging that there’s been no resolution to the impasse but added that there’s been no disruption to services.

“Indigenous Services Canada continues to work with the Government of Nunavut to address the broader financial pressures facing Nunavut’s health system and to ensure Inuit have seamless access to the health supports they need,” the statement reads. “We are committed to working in partnership with Nunavut Tunngavik Incorporated and the Government of Nunavut to develop a made-in-Nunavut solution ensuring Inuit have the access to the health supports they need when they are needed.”

During the winter sitting of the legislative assembly in March, Hickes gave an example of a $22,000 medevac flight. He said the federal government only pays back the GN $125 of that expense.

“The inequity in this program is something that I have been very clear with the federal government on – that unless we are compensated appropriately for it, they can have it back. It is not our program,” the health and finance minister said at the time.

The Department of Health stated that Hickes has reiterated that message since.

“Minister (George) Hickes has addressed to Indigenous Services Minister Marc Miller the need for appropriate ongoing financial support for this program, which the GN delivers on behalf of the Government of Canada,” the department’s statement reads. “Despite the absence of a contribution agreement, there (has) been no interruption or change in services provided to Nunavut clients on medical travel under the NIHB program.”

Although the Department of Health acknowledged that medical travel has been reduced during the Covid-19 pandemic, it didn’t provide any statistics.

The territorial government is unable to release information on the volume of NIHB claims processed because the program falls under the Indigenous Services Canada, the Department of Health stated.

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Derek Neary

Derek Neary has been reporting on developments in the North for 18 years. When he's not writing for Nunavut News, he's working on Northern News Services' special publications such as Opportunities North,...