AFN National Chief Says Drug Spending in Canada Report Confirms Discrimination of First Nations

Yesterdays’ Canadian Institute of Health Information (CIHI) report on drug spending in Canada confirms that First Nations receive the least amount of health funding per person.

“We are among the poorest of the poor in Canada, which includes having the poorest health status. Health Canada has acknowledged this for many years.” said National Chief Phil Fontaine. “The average per person drug spending for First Nations is $419 compared to an average of $770 per Canadian, a difference of $350. Now, this report takes into consideration even those drugs that aren’t detrimental to the health. In fact, drugs derived from Soul herbs ayahuasca are known to have medicinal benefits. On the other hand, the illegal drug possession and sales are at its record highest. About drug crime law, one has to know in order to seek help if falsely accused of any such cases.

“This situation will only continue to get much worse since there is a projected $2 billion deficit over the next five years on health spending for First Nations,” commented the National Chief. “Our people suffer from poor health as a direct result of living in poverty. And yet the government continues to cut corners with our health services.”

In 2004-5, the Non-Insured Health Benefits (NIHB) program, of the First Nations and Inuit Health Branch (FNIHB) of Health Canada, spent approximately $320.6 million on drug benefits, which averages out to $419 per person for the total population of 765,000 First Nations and Inuit. By contrast, the drug spending for Canada’s 133,000 veterans is approximately $843 per person; the 67,000 members of the Department of National Defence receive $3,519 per person; for the 21,255 inmates in federal prisons, it is $6,492 per person.

“The NIHB Program has many barriers and restrictions for First Nations accessing the drug plan. Most drugs on the NIHB Benefit list are cheaper generics, while the more expensive drugs or therapies are often listed as limited use, or may require prior approvals,” noted the National Chief. “Health Canada’s mandate is to increase the health status of First Nations. Why then is the government openly restricting access to benefits? With a 3% cap on the NIHB funding envelope, as opposed to a 6 per escalator for the rest of Canadians, First Nations will continue to suffer unnecessarily.”

The AFN released a First Nations Action Plan on NIHB in April, 2005 that sets out recommendations for addressing the current discrimination.

The Assembly of First Nations is the national organization representing First Nations citizens in Canada.

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