Views / Opinion

Indigenous children shouldn't have to fight for health coverage: Kabatay

Facebook ads and lawyers have a better return on investment than medical procedures for Indigenous children — at least that’s the impression from Health Canada’s balance sheet.

Health Minister Ginette Petitpas Taylor heads to the morning session as the Liberal cabinet meets in St. John's, N.L. on Wednesday, Sept. 13, 2017.

THE CANADIAN PRESS/Andrew Vaughan

Health Minister Ginette Petitpas Taylor heads to the morning session as the Liberal cabinet meets in St. John's, N.L. on Wednesday, Sept. 13, 2017.

Facebook ads and lawyers have a better return on investment than medical procedures for Indigenous children — at least that’s the impression from Health Canada’s balance sheet.

Over the weekend, CBC reported Ottawa has spent over $110,000 in legal fees since January 2016 to fight paying for a $6,000 dental procedure. And those legal bills are expected to rise.

In chronic pain, Josey Willier, a 16-year-old Indigenous girl from Alberta, took over-the-counter pain medication every day for two years. Two different orthodontists recommended she get braces or face jaw surgery. Willier’s mother, Stacey Shiner, requested the First Nations and Inuit health benefit program cover the cost, but she was denied. After appealing three times, she took the case to Federal Court.

This is appalling, especially since the Canadian Human Rights Tribunal found, also in January 2016, that the federally run First Nations health care system discriminates against children on reserves. Not to mention the waste of public money.

But sadly, it’s not shocking. Health Canada has repeatedly mishandled health care for these kids. Earlier this year, the agency placed ads on Facebook directly seeking Indigenous children in need of health care after it was revealed that millions in funding was languishing in government coffers.

The bill for those ads? $8,750 for one month, the CBC reported.

If the government is truly doing what it can to end the discrimination, how can Health Canada pay over $110,000 in legal fees, thousands in advertising, but fight paying $6,000 so a girl can fix her chronic pain? It makes you wonder how they really factor benefits for Indigenous children.

The agency defends the decision, saying to CBC “the program for First Nations children is more generous than what is available to others.” So why are First Nations children often the ones battling in court for coverage they can’t get, but is supposedly available to them?

This type of treatment isn’t particularly new.

In 2005, Jordan River Anderson, born with complex medical needs, from Norway House Cree First Nation in Manitoba, died after the federal government and province of Manitoba argued over who should pay for his home care. He was 5 years old.

In response, Jordan’s Principle was created. It calls on the federal government to ensure Indigenous children don’t needlessly suffer due to jurisdictional disputes.

Health Canada’s response to Indigenous health care is pathetic. Spending thousands of dollars to avoid spending a fraction of that shows that even after it is enshrined in policy and the government is chastised by human rights tribunals, very little changes.

Willier and Shiner must be strong to fight for so long. But the point is, they shouldn’t have to.

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