Lesa Semmler: Non-Insured Health Benefits Agreement with Canada

Press Release

Mr. Speaker, I want to provide the House with an update on negotiations and discussions with the Government of Canada on the delivery of the federal Non-Insured Health Benefits program. This is a national program available to eligible First Nations and Inuit residents. In the NWT, portions of the program are administered by the GNWT on behalf of Indigenous Services Canada, through a contribution agreement.

Through this agreement, the Department of Health and Social Services is responsible for coordination of medical travel; arranging access to dental care and vision care services; and assisting with access to medical supplies and equipment for clients of the program.

Mr. Speaker, the Department of Health and Social Services entered into a new agreement with Indigenous Services Canada at the end of last fiscal year. This two-year agreement provides annual funding of $47.1 million for last year and this year. Of this amount, $22.9 million is allocated for Non-Insured Health Benefits program delivery, while $24.2 million is intended to offset additional medical travel costs for eligible First Nations and Inuit residents in the NWT.

While this new agreement provides a substantial increase in funding, there remains a significant shortfall to meet the full costs of Non-Insured Health Benefits program delivery. The terms of the agreement still do not hold Indigenous Services Canada responsible for the full cost of providing Non-Insured Health Benefits to eligible NWT residents. The GNWT has reiterated to the federal government that its role is solely in administering Indigenous Services Canada’s Non-Insured Health Benefits program in the NWT. This should not affect the federal government’s responsibility for Non-Insured Health Benefits for Indigenous residents, nor should it be seen as the GNWT assuming responsibility for the costs associated with the program. Fully funding the Non-Insured Health Benefits program in the NWT would also potentially remove barriers to Indigenous governments wishing to pursue the administration of Non-Insured Health Benefits for their own beneficiaries and citizens in the future.

Historic and current arrangements between the federal government and the GNWT around the provision of medical travel and the administration of the Non-Insured Health Benefits have resulted in policy and funding gaps that are complicated to resolve. Resolving these foundational issues is an essential first step in making improvements to the delivery of medical travel in the NWT and addressing concerns with other Non-Insured Health Benefits benefit areas, such as dental services.

Mr. Speaker, over the last year and a half, issues related to the Non-Insured Health Benefits program have been regularly discussed with the NWT Council of Leaders. Council members have taken a united position in advocating for Indigenous Services Canada to accept its responsibility for the full cost of their program and ensure that Non-Insured Health Benefits-eligible residents receive the full benefits afforded to them through this program. Their support has been instrumental in moving this issue forward with Canada, and I am committed to continuing to collaborate with Indigenous leadership on this important work.

To initiate the next round of negotiations I, along with the Tłı̨chǫ Grand Chief and the President of the NWT Métis Nation, met with the Minister of Indigenous Services Canada to discuss our concerns with the current Non-Insured Health Benefits agreement. We have agreed to work toward a draft agreement that closes the funding gap and addresses outstanding issues by the Fall of 2024.

Mr. Speaker, I am committed to pursuing a new approach to engaging with the Government of Canada, working with Indigenous government leadership to ensure the federal government upholds its responsibilities to Non-Insured Health Benefits-eligible residents, and to working towards a streamlined coordination of services that benefits all NWT residents.

Thank you Mr. Speaker.


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