Nunavut plans info campaign to ease health benefits confusion

“It’s very complex, and we’re trying to improve the way we convey the information”


To help Nunavummiut better understand what health care benefits the Government of Nunavut does and does not offer, Nunavut’s health department plans to launch a public information campaign.

“We hope that we’re going to be able to clarify that with the information coming out on our new website as well as some new documents that will be developed,” said Pam Coulter, the health department’s director of communications, at a special May 27 media briefing on health coverage and benefits in Nunavut.

“It’s very complex, and we’re trying to improve the way we convey the information,” Coulter said.

Coulter said the briefing, attended only by Nunatsiaq News, was not scheduled as a response to the plight of William Pothier, a young leukemia patient from Iqaluit whose family faces extra stress and additional expenses because of his need for chemotherapy treatment outside Nunavut.

According to five documents on Nunavut health insurance cards, medical travel and extended benefits that Coulter distributed, Nunavut’s Extended Health Benefits program, or EHB, does provide assistance to ”eligible” non-Inuit Nunavut residents who are over the age of 65, indigent or require specialized health care treatment.

“We actually have this and there’s not cost to this at all,” Coulter said.

Cancer treatments, such as those being given to William Pothier, are among the health conditions covered under the EHB.

But the EHB only provides benefits to non-Inuit Nunavut residents who don’t have or can’t receive other third-party health care benefits.

The EHB policy states “the Government of Nunavut is a payer of last resort. This means that all other possible sources of funding must be used first,” the health department documents say.

And, judging from the documents, it looks like non-Inuit who qualify for EHB must also shoulder additional costs if they receive health care in the South.

Non-Inuit registered under the EHB face a $250 co-payment for medical travel flights unless they’re a “verified indigent,” a senior citizen enrolled in the EHB or an infant under two years of age who wouldn’t pay for an airline ticket anyway.

As well, the “Client Travel Policy” doesn’t say exactly how much non-aboriginal patient escorts must pay for flights or whether they may receive money for living expenses — if who don’t qualify for EHB or have some supplementary health insurance coverage.

People like this also face high accommodation costs for non-Inuit under the EHB, because they’re not usually not able to stay at boarding homes for Nunavummiut in Edmonton, Yellowknife, Winnipeg or Ottawa.

Instead, they get a maximum of $70 a night for room and board with family and friends. If they stay at a hotel, the cost of the first night’s stay and meals is reimbursed at the current government travel rate.

For more than only night’s stay, room costs are reimbursed at a maximum of only $20 per night and $20 a day for meals.

There’s no indication either of how long the accommodation benefits may continue.

For transient workers in Nunavut who don’t hold a GN health card, it’s a good idea to buy private medical travel insurance before they come to the territory, Coulter said.

That’s because in emergencies, the GN will cover the cost of medical travel for non-residents, but the individual will be billed the full cost of air transportation.

“You need to be prepared. Those can cost a lot of money,” Coulter said.

Nunavut beneficiaries may also encounter problems if they travel outside of Canada because the GN will only reimburse their medical expenses according to Nunavut rates, which may be much less than the rates charged, for example, in the United States.

If you still have questions about extended health benefits, you can receive information in Inuktitut and English at a special toll free number: 1-800-661-0833.

But when asked whether information at this number was also available in French and Innuinaqtun, Coulter said she wasn’t sure.

The Nunavut health care plan’s patient travel guidelines

The GN’s client travel approval guidelines

The GN’s patient travel policy

The GN’s Extended Health Benefits policy

• For the GN’s Extended Health Benefits Policy guidelines, read the file posted below:

Government of Nunavut EHB Policy Guidelines

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