Some Northern indigenous leaders are calling for changes to Canada’s Non-Insured Health Benefits (NIHB) programme, particularly when it comes to patients who need to travel for care and require a medical escort.
Gwich’in Tribal Council told a parliamentary committee that the current system lacks compassion for rural indigenous patients who have unique needs. It is common to hear of residents who require a medical travel escort and do not receive one. This is especially concerning when dealing with the elderly. The system routinely fails indigenous Northerners because of confusion and miscommunication between the N.W.T. health care system and NIHB.
NIHB covers some Medicare costs like dental, vision and out-of-territory medical travel, for those who can prove their status and who don’t already get healthcare coverage through their place of work.
When medical travel escorts are sought from the N.W.T. Health and Social Services Authority, people are often caught in the bureaucracy and required to prove their conditions. Otherwise this essential support is seemingly automatically denied.
The N.W.T. government pre-authorises who travels with patients according to a list of criteria, including whether they can travel alone and if they are a minor. In some cases a doctor has to support the patient’s request for insurance to cover their caretaker’s travel costs.
A two-tier system exists in the N.W.T., where territorial government workers, predominantly non-Indigenous, enjoy extensive health benefits compared to most of the territory’s non-indigenous residents.
The territories’ health ministers have also told the parliamentary committee that major changes to the NIHB are needed, saying the plan does not cover several unique healthcare needs for indigenous people including travel costs for patients’ family members.