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Labour Views: The GNWT gives, the GNWT takes away

Nov 09, 2022

Food and fuel prices continue to climb and northerners are feeling the pressure as wages fail to climb with them.

The GNWT is also claiming they have no cash to spare, and recent government messaging suggests they’re preparing to start slashing services and benefits many northerners rely on.

At the end of August, the GNWT started running some very cryptic ads on Facebook announcing proposed changes to their Extended Healthcare Benefits policy.

Under the proposed changes, eligibility for supplementary health benefits (such as prescription drugs, eyewear, dental services, medical supplies and equipment, and in some cases medical travel) would be expanded for those who don’t have an existing employer plan or private health insurance, provided they meet a certain income threshold.

Calling it “fiscal accountability”, the government is selling this as a way to ensure more people are covered. The GNWT estimates that around 2,200 NWT residents don’t have access to benefits, or just under 5% of the NWT population.

A closer read on the GNWT website shows that they also plan to scrap the Specified Disease Conditions Program. Currently, if you have a condition on this list you are covered, regardless of your income.

The GNWT says that seniors and Indigenous residents with federal NIHB coverage won’t see any reductions in coverage. According to NWT Statistics’ online census data, that leaves just under half of NWT residents who may at some point need to access extended health benefits under the Specified Disease Conditions Program.

Overlapping demographics make it difficult to research exactly how many people the new extended benefits policy will actually cover, but by removing the Specified Disease Conditions Program, the GNWT’s new health benefits policy will cover fewer – not more – NWT residents.

Don’t worry, says the GNWT, if you make more than the maximum allowable income, you should be covered for most things under your employer’s health plan, or you can get private health insurance.

Employer health plans (including the plan offered by the GNWT to their workers) do not provide limitless coverage for all conditions or situations. Most come with annual caps on payouts and high deductibles that people must pay for out of their own pockets. And, unfortunately, there are many employers in the NWT do not offer their workers a health benefits plan.

If you do not have employer health benefits, private insurance can be expensive. If you have a pre-existing condition that is currently covered under the Specified Disease Conditions Program, you may not even be able to get private coverage.

Northerners who rely on these benefits – and may, in fact, be living in the NWT because of them – will suffer if the government implements this cash grab. They may leave the NWT altogether, taking their tax dollars, local spending power, and federal transfer money with them.