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Medical travel makes Nunavut health spending soar

A Nunavut MLA says he's worried that the territory cannot continue to deal with rising health costs, driven in large part by medical transportation.

A Nunavut MLA says he's worried that the territory cannot continue to deal with rising health costs, driven in large part by medical transportation.

The Nunavut government spent more than $42 million on medical travel for its residents in the fiscal year ended March 31. That figure is up from $39.4 million in the 2005-06 fiscal year and $34.7 million in 2004-05.

The amountsinclude the costs of emergency evacuations and scheduled medical travel. The cost of a medevac can run as high as $20,000 in some locations.

"I don't think it is sustainable. Costs are always going up," Cambridge Bay MLA Keith Peterson said Wednesday. "It's proven over time that the costs will increase."

Health Minister Leona Aglukkaq cited several reasons, including a growing population, rising fuel prices and more people needing medical evacuations.

"Fuel price is part of it, but we've also had an increase in people requiring more care," Aglukkaq said.

There have also been numerous cases of acute respiratory infections in infants, she said, driving costs up more.

"In the case of respiratory illness, when we have an outbreak, we can average about 10 to 15 medevacs in a community in a month," she said. "So that is very serious and it's very expensive, but it's one that is out of necessity we have to provide."

By comparison, the Northwest Territories spent about $14 million in medical travel in the last fiscal year, an increase of about $1 million from the year before. That's despite the fact that the N.W.T. has a larger population than Nunavut.

Peterson said Nunavut has many remote communities to deal with, along with a lack of health specialists, family doctors and nurses. Still, he said the territory has to become very creative to keep health spending down, notably by moving faster to bring health care closer to home.

Aglukkaq said the government is looking at ways to cut down on travel costs, including midwifery programs and initiatives to take specialized tests to different communities. The government will also announce a public health strategy later this year, she said.

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