Nunavut health minister threatens to forward medical travel bills to Ottawa over lack of negotiations

Non-Insured Health Benefits program agreement set to expire April 1 with nothing to replace it

Nunavut’s current Non-Insured Health Benefits program agreement with the Government of Canada expires on April 1. Health Minister Lorne Kusugak says that requests for a new agreement have been met with silence. (File photo)

By Dustin Patar

Nunavut’s health minister is threatening to forward medical travel bills incurred by the territory’s Inuit to the federal government if a new Non-Insured Health Benefits program agreement isn’t in place by April 1.

That’s when the current agreement, struck with the federal government last year, is set to expire.

Health Minister Lorne Kusugak says his requests to negotiate with the federal government have been met with “silence.”

“Canada’s continued stalling shows disrespect to Nunavut’s Inuit and is harmful to the long-term health of our territory,’ said Kusugak in the legislature March 16.

“The federal government has to pull up their socks and start paying for what they are responsible for.”

The Non-Insured Health Benefits program, run by Indigenous Services Canada, provides Indigenous communities, including Nunavut Inuit, with coverage for a range of health benefits that are not covered through other social programs, private insurance plans or provincial and territorial health insurance.

NIHB coverage includes prescription drugs, dental care, eye care and medical travel.

Last fall the federal government increased the amount it pays for medical travel and medevac flights for beneficiaries of its NIHB program in Nunavut from $125 per flight to $715 per flight.

The increase applied retroactively to flights from April 1, 2020 until March 31, when a new agreement was meant to come into effect.

“It was and is our expectation that the federal government begin covering 100 per cent of the costs of medical travel flights for Inuit in perpetuity,” said Kusugak.

That expectation is reflected in the department’s 2021-22 budget, which factors roughly $20 million coming from that funding.

The long-standing issue with NIHB is that per-capital federal funding models don’t take into account the high costs of air travel and health care in the territory. The result is that the Government of Nunavut has historically had to cover those cost overruns.

When asked during question period how the budget would be impacted if the issue isn’t resolved by March 31, Kusugak was mum.

“I cannot explain exactly the impact that will have at this time,” he said, but added that as recently as earlier in the morning he had sent a letter to his federal counterpart on the issue.

Kusugak also clarified that in addition to his department, negotiation efforts are also being made by the Department of Finance and the premier’s office.

Indigenous Services Canada did not answer questions posed by Nunatsiaq News about the status of the negotiations or when the last time the department was in contact with the Nunavut government.

Instead, a spokesperson said the department continues to “work collaboratively” with the territorial government to address health priorities.

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(10) Comments:

  1. Posted by Volunteer on

    Where’s the MP? I wonder if she is aware of Nunavut Government’s agenda items with the Federal Government? Where’s ITK?

    • Posted by articrick on

      Where is the MP on many issues? And she wants to be re elected?

    • Posted by The good fight on

      Our MP and ITK are currently engaged in rigorous campaign of post-modern warfare against the makers of the Eskimo ice cream bar.. we hope to have them back shortly.

      Until then, you’re on your own Nunavut!

  2. Posted by Invoice Number 867 on

    By this logic can I send my invoice to Kusugak for lost wages after being forced to take two weeks of annual leave rather than do my job remotely in the isolation hub here in Ottawa (having done it for weeks last year from home)? Maybe consider treating your own employees with the respect you are demanding from the federal government.

    • Posted by Name withheld on

      I agree with you 100%, they only say this to cover their tracks, to side track everyone to something else.

      They spent so much money on keeping everyone working from home last year and most didn’t have laptops to take or use.

    • Posted by Paul Murphy on

      Thank you for taking an extra 2 weeks holiday at no expense to you but the GN.
      I assume from your criticism you went out during the pandemic and contrary to the recommendations of the Good Doctor and the experts. If so, count yourself lucky you didn’t bring the virus into the rest of us who listened.

      • Posted by Invoice Number 867 on

        I went to the south to deal with a family matter Paul, not that it matters, since it is a free country to move around after all. Needless to say I was not in Cuba.
        The cost to me was two weeks of salary. It is as if you think employers hand out free vacations, that isn’t how it works – people have to actually work to accrue vacation. You’re pretty ignorant.
        I don’t care about isolating but I hate being told I can do my job remotely one month and then not another because I am in Ottawa isolating. Meanwhile senior management is permitted to do this.

  3. Posted by 2001 Throwback on

    Kudos to Nunatsiaq highlighting how the Government of Nunavut has got nothing done on this but talk tough by linking to an article dated FEB 23 2001. What is your actual plan Lorne? GN press conferences have not done anything to change for two decades.

  4. Posted by changes are needed in the North on

    I am very surprised that the GN is not shifting gears in making remote work or remote services more an option for people in light of the COVID19 pandemic. Let’s face it – the only thing really keeping COVID19 away from the North is the mandatory 14 day isolation but think about how much millions of dollars is being spent to maintain these hubs for the Territory. How long will the GN continue to finance it? It is not fiscally sustainable but if they feel it prevents the spread of COVID19, then it is best to do it but what does it mean about your level of services when the only thing really preventing the spread of COVID19 is a 14 day mandatory isolation in a hotel?

    For the people complaining about people who have to travel South – let’s face it- there are lots of cases where people MUST leave the Territory- Medical Travel being one of them. Unfortunately, Nunavut does not have enough essential services to keep people here for long (inadequate health services, limited counselling services, lack of supports for wellbeing, lack of services for victims of violence, food insecurity, food desserts, stressful work environments). And is it a crime if people need to see family? If you had a loved one who is sick or dying, would you not want to see them? This expectation for people to live in isolation forever and ever away from family and loved ones indefinitely is a bit inhumane and more often than not, the people judging other people for wanting to see family already have their family present with them. This is not the case for everyone.

    Although travel is not recommended, there is no law that says it is not allowed and legally, you cannot prevent someone from travelling. We need to stop judging people who need to travel because we do not know their circumstances. I am not saying people should travel and be irresponsible but half the people complaining about people travelling have also travelled themselves-the pot calling the kettle black. The truth is, travelling is happening in many parts of the world which is way extra pre cautions have been put in place.

    Even with the vaccine, it is going to take another year or two before COVID19 really settles down. Everywhere in the world is going remote and contact less. If Nunavut does not see the importance of adapting to changes globally to help stop the spread of COVID19, then they should prepare for high costs to support mandatory isolation, a mass exodus of transient workers who cannot stay indefinitely in the North or an increase in COVID if more preventative measures are not put in place.

    • Posted by Marcia Marcia Marcia on

      For generations Inuit have not only endured being hospitalized alone in the south, but have also died alone or with one family member present as a medical escort.

      Those who come to live and work in Nunavut should keep that in mind when they decide that their family emergency should be considered “essential.” Don’t they have at least ONE other family member down south that can tend to their loved one? Every time someone travels south to tend to family or personal needs/wants, they are costing the GN ooodles of money. Money on top of the high cost of their relocations in and out, paid education leave, subsidized housing, the list goes on and on. Nunavut probably spends more money on their public servants than they do on their Inuit population.


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