Non-insured benefits not a problem in Nunavik


MONTREAL — In Nunavik, no one’s losing sleep over the cost of health services for Nunavimmiut and who’s going to pay the bills.

That’s because, despite annual deficits at the regional health board, health care in Nunavik isn’t the region’s financial headache. It’s Quebec’s.

In fact, at Nunavik’s regional health board, non-insurable benefits are a non-issue: everyone gets the services they need, and if this means they have to travel to Montreal, that’s just the way it is. The board even pays for extra benefits for non-Inuit beneficiaries when they need health care in the South.

Quebec has deep pockets. It pays for an Air Inuit flight crew to remain on stand-by for medevacs. “And when we need to get a Challenger jet to do a medevac, we charge the board only $626. Of course, it costs more, but the government of Quebec pays for it,” said Sylvie BÈlanger, coordinator of aboriginal services with the health department in Quebec City.

The average fare to bring a patient from Nunavik to Montreal $2000, and Quebec covers it all. BÈlanger said there’s some concern over the rising costs of airfares on Air Inuit and First Air, and that the money Quebec pays may be a kind of hidden subsidy for the airlines, but this unease doesn’t mean patients don’t go where they need to for treatment.

Quebec pays. That’s been the deal since the province signed the James Bay and Northern Quebec Agreement in 1975, and, in doing so, agreed to supply services to Nunavik ó such as non-insurable benefits — which were formerly under federal jurisdiction.

Nunavik’s two well-staffed hospitals and new community health clinics show Quebec hasn’t neglected its responsibilities to provide health care.

“The people in Nunavik are well-treated [by the health care system]. Of course there are still social problems, but there are services, too,” BÈlanger said.

BÈlanger said that in addition to their non-insurable benefits, Nunavimmiut are entitled to the same quality of care as people anywhere else in Quebec. As a result, the health department tries not to look too much at the bottom line, even if this means mopping up the Nunavik health board’s deficit. Quebec finds the $50 million it needs for Nunavik’s health care needs in the pockets of the province’s richer regions. Ottawa, in fact, only supplies around 13 per cent of Quebec’s health care budget.

Yet BÈlanger still doesn’t understand why Nunavut should have to scrounge around for the health care money it needs.

“The federal government has lots of money — a big surplus,” BÈlanger said.

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