Defined by 0.11%: Policies delimiting access to prescription drugs for First Nations people in British Columbia

  • Emily Wale
  • Josée G. Lavoie
Keywords: Indigenous, health, British Columbia, prescription, auditor, federal, pharmaceutical, medication, policy


The Non-Insured Health Benefits (NIHB) program is a federal program that funds prescription medication, as well as other primary healthcare benefits, for First Nations people registered under the Indian Act and for Inuit. NIHB policies have been developed within the Canadian political realities of ambiguity in interpretation of historical legal obligations, patterns of cost shifting onto provincial governments, and a move towards chronic disease management. This study critiques the ambiguities embedded in NIHB and provincial pharmaceutical benefit policies for First Nations people in British Columbia. British Columbia’s Fair PharmaCare and PharmaCare Plan C provincial prescription programs are compared to NIHB. We conducted a review of these policies and completed our understanding by interviewing three pharmacists to better understand decisions surrounding the dispensing process. Four themes surfaced from our analysis: discrepancy between policy and practice in terms of federal versus provincial responsibility; restrictive processes of access to coverage; a system dependent on pharmacists’ goodwill when NIHB denies a claim; and NIHB policies at times being at odds with pharmacists’ clinical judgment and business compensation. Our findings suggest the existence of an ethnically differentiated social contract that perpetuates rather than diminishes barriers to care for First Nations people.

Research Papers