Nunatsiaq Online
NEWS: Nunavut April 19, 2017 - 2:30 pm

Prenatal escorts in Nunavut already eligible for travel funding under new policy

But the GN says new policy is still being updated

SARAH ROGERS
Iqaluit's patient residence, located across the road from the Qikiqtani hospital, many see more clients with the arrival of new funding for prenatal escorts in Nunavut. (FILE PHOTO)
Iqaluit's patient residence, located across the road from the Qikiqtani hospital, many see more clients with the arrival of new funding for prenatal escorts in Nunavut. (FILE PHOTO)

A newly-announced Health Canada policy has already been put in place to fund non-medical travel companions for pregnant Nunavut women who leave their communities to give birth.

The new directive came from the federal health minister, Jane Philpott, during a media interview she gave earlier this month.

Philpott said forcing pregnant couples to pay for their own travel, or worse, leaving women to travel or birth alone, had “a whole bunch of negative outcomes,” she told the Canadian Press.

“It requires significant resources in order to be able to do that, but it is absolutely a wise investment,” Philpott said of the policy change April 9.

Nunavut’s health department said last week that, effective immediately, one non-medical prenatal escort is eligible to have their travel covered by Health Canada’s Non-Insured Health Benefits (NIHB) program, available to Inuit and First Nations across the country.

“The department is encouraged by the news,” said the Government of Nunavut’s deputy minister of health, Colleen Stockley, in a statement emailed to Nunatsiaq News.

All Nunavut community health centres have been advised of the change, she added, and the department has developed processes to facilitate the approval of those escorts.

The NIHB’s medical transportation benefit is administered by the territorial government on behalf of Health Canada through a contribution agreement.

But neither the GN nor Health Canada had many other details about what the new policy would mean in Nunavut, while both levels of government update the benefit policy document, Health Canada told Nunatsiaq News.

What they can say: the new policy offers full coverage of the cost of prenatal escorts for expectant Nunavut Inuit mothers.

Currently the NIHB pays $250 for travel for Indigenous patients who have to deliver outside their communities, plus $50 per day for patients staying at boarding facilities, hotels or with billets.

Any remaining uninsured accommodation or care costs for Nunavut Inuit patients are covered by the GN’s health budget.

Up until now, prenatal escorts were only authorized only when it was considered medically necessary.

Now the GN will get additional funding through the NIHB to cover travel costs for those escorts, but not necessarily coverage of accommodation and meals.

That raises questions about how the GN will manage a potential influx of medical travellers, especially in its already-crowded patient boarding facilities. Nunavut’s health department has yet to provide more details.

Health Canada said it couldn’t be sure how much of the new NIHB funding would be directed to Nunavut, given the program is driven by demand.

But based on past coverage for prenatal travel from the territory, Health Canada estimated additional costs for escort travel could be $22 million in 2017-2018.

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