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Health minister wins major concessions from Ottawa on paying costs of medical flights for Inuit

After a lengthy dispute with the Government of Nunavut, the federal government has substantially increased its payments to cover Non-Insured Health Benefits (NIHB) for Inuit beneficiaries.

For medical flights, the Government of Canada will now contribute $715 per trip, up from $125 per trip in the past, Health Minister George Hickes announced in the legislative assembly on Thursday. That federal contribution will be capped at $20 million for this fiscal year, he added.

Health Minister George Hickes has succeeded in negotiations to get the Government of Canada to pay a much greater share of the costs for medical flights and other non-insured health benefits for Inuit beneficiaries.
photo courtesy Government of Nunavut

Ottawa will also make an additional $58-million contribution for this fiscal year, “which will help address the NIHB program’s shortfalls, and free up millions of dollars for other healthcare spending needs,” Hickes said.

Work remains ongoing for the next fiscal year, and the health minister expressed optimism that the federal government will then permanently cover 100 per cent of the costs of medical travel flights and related administration expenses.

“I am relieved to share this news and grateful to the federal government for working with the Department of Health and in accepting its NIHB responsibilities,” said Hickes, who refused to sign an extension of the NIHB agreement when it expired in March because the territorial government was shouldering too much of the cost burden.

“For too long, Mr. Speaker, Indigenous Services Canada has only paid for a fraction of what it costs for the GN to deliver NIHB services on its behalf,” the health minister said. “Delivering this program on behalf of the federal government has cost the territory hundreds of millions of dollars over the years. That is money that could have been spent on improving healthcare programs, services, or infrastructure here in Nunavut.”