Amid the COVID-19 crisis, the territorial and federal governments are locked in a dispute over health funding.
The GN’s “longstanding” agreement with Ottawa for Non-Insured Health Benefits (NIHB) expired on March 31.
NIHB is a federal program that provides Nunavut Inuit with access to health services. The GN “bore most of the costs in delivering this federal program,” said Health Minister George Hickes during Wednesday’s COVID-19 press conference in Iqaluit.
The GN has been paying upwards of $77 million annually for delivering the NIHB program, which comprises 89 per cent of all medical travel on the airlines.
For the past four years, the GN has been trying to obtain compensation for this federal program.
“Unfortunately, we have not been able to resolve this matter,” said Hickes, adding this is now affecting the GN’s ability to ramp up its response capabilities for COVID-19.
The territorial government has only received $516,000 of a $500-million federal aid package for healthcare delivery for COVID-19. This amount is based on the number of people in territory, and not the actual cost of delivering health care to 25 remote communities, the minister said, adding the amount is insufficient.
“We have arguably the highest health care costs in the country, yet we’re one of the least funded because it’s a per capita basis,” Hickes said. “With respect to COVID-19, we have made our needs abundantly clear. We need financial support to continue to stem the virus from entering our territory.”
Meanwhile, to help sustain the airlines in Nunavut, Transport Canada has recommended the territorial and federal governments continue purchasing seats, whether they are used or not, at previous levels under the GN duty medical travel contract.
On Tuesday night, Hickes sent a letter to Minister of Indigenous Services Marc Miller asking to support the airlines in Nunavut.
“We have asked Indigenous Services Canada (ISC) to contribute the amount equal to their passenger load on Canadian North and Calm Air as per Transport Canada’s recommendation,” he said.
In other words, ISC needs to “pay for the seats that they are responsible for and that is 89 per cent of our medical travel scheduled flight seats,” said Hickes. “The federal government now needs to step up to the plate and assume their responsibilities to ensure a safe, sustainable and effective transportation network for Nunavut.”
As of Thursday, Hickes was still awaiting a response from Ottawa.
“It’s not too late for the federal government to give Nunavut a fighting chance, but the time to act is now,” said Hickes. “Nunavut it needs your help. We cannot do this alone.”