Status First Nations people in B.C. will begin health coverage under a tailored version of provincial pharmacare system on Sunday, marking the first time a province takes over health care coverage for that group.
Since 1979, First Nations people in B.C. have been covered under Canada Health’s Non-Insured Health Benefits program, which provides coverage for prescription medications, dental and medical supplies.
Grand Chief Doug Kelly, president of the Sto:lo Tribal Council in Chilliwack, said bringing the healthcare plan under the First Nations Health Authority will allow coverage to be focused on what those in B.C. need.
“What we often find, is governments will often fight over who pays for what,” Kelly said. “What we do with this decision to take ourselves away from the national program, is there’s no longer a fight over who will pay for prescription drugs. Pharmacare will be the only payer.”
The new benefits plan will affect 143,000 health authority clients.
The FNHA version of Pharmacare, called “Plan W,” will be slightly different than that of the rest of the province.
Because many First Nations people don’t file income taxes, Kelly said, many don’t meet the proper requirements for Pharmacare.
“Most Indigenous folks are impoverished, barely getting by,” he said. “So, for us, income testing doesn’t work. The way it’s done for other British Columbians is by the filing of income tax returns. Many of our folks are so poor they don’t file income tax forms.”
FNHA clients who need prescription medications will instead have to provide their status card and care card and will receive their prescription medication for free, covered by Pharmacare.
The differences behind the scenes have been a long time coming, according to Kelly, who’s advocated for 30 years for a provincial-based plan.
In 2006, then-premier Gordon Campbell said all health services delivered by the province would be made available to all British Columbians. In 2011, the First Nations Health Authority was created, and began delivering services in 2013.
This new Pharmacare plan will be tweaked based on concerns and issues that may arise around access and implementation, Kelly said.
“The chiefs told us if you’re going to do this, then you do a better job,” Kelly said. “It’s not good enough to take over the work the government once did for us, you’ve got to do a better job.”