Canada’s health agency stands accused of shelling out some $88,000 in administrative and legal fees to avoid paying a medical claim amounting to a fraction of that amount.
Just days after Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau told the United Nations that he is dedicated to improving the lives of indigenous people in Canada, it was revealed that Ottawa spent over $88,000 in legal fees to avoid paying some $5,000 to refund the care of an Aboriginal [First Nations] teenager who was diagnosed with chronic dental pain.
According to figures released through by the Access to Information Act, Josey Willier, a teenager from Sucker Creek First Nation, suffers from chronic headaches and jaw pain due to an impacted tooth and congenital overbite.
Court documents show that in 2014 two orthodontists cautioned that, without braces, Willier would require invasive jaw surgery. One of the orthodontists additionally warned that, without proper treatment, Willier may lose her ability to eat and speak.
Willier's family asked the health services benefit program administered by the federal government to help pay for the $5,000 surgery. The family's request was denied by Health Canada, which argued that the condition was not severe enough for braces. The family subsequently took their case to the country's federal court, where a judge also deemed that braces were unwarranted.
The ongoing 16-month court case cost the Canadian government almost $88,000 in fees. The legal costs are likely to be even higher, as the family filed a June appeal to the federal court decision.
"I think it's atrocious," said Cindy Blackstock, spokesperson for the First Nations Child and Family Caring Society.
"As a taxpayer, I'm absolutely floored that Canada would spend [Canadian dollars] $110,000 defending an [Canadian dollars] $6,000 investment to help a child. They could have used that money to buy 18 children in medical need the orthodontic services they needed."
In a statement to The Guardian, Health Canada — pointedly avoiding the larger issue — limited its remarks to the process used to evaluate the claim.
"In this case, the issue is not about the monetary value or affordability of the claim," the statement read.
Dental care is not included in Canada's universal healthcare and is usually paid for either out-of-pocket or through private insurance. According to a 2014 report by the Canadian Academy, Canada's public funds towards dental care is one of the lowest among Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) countries, contributing to only 6 percent, compared to 7.9 percent in the US and 79 percent in Finland.