The health impacts of the federal government’s decision to cut health benefits to many refugees are becoming increasingly apparent.
In our analysis, conducted prior to the cuts being implemented, we found that the changes to the Interim Federal Health Program would result in the severe reduction or elimination of health care services for refugees who are in less-preferred categories. We found that women and children would be at particular risk as their access to medical support if they suffer physical or emotional abuse will be eliminated. Finally, we argued that the prevalence of chronic conditions, such as mental health issues, would increase amongst vulnerable populations as a result of this policy change.
Sadly, many of these predictions have come true. Canadian Doctors for Refugee Care has been documenting patient cases since the changes to the IFHP took effect. The negative outcomes that they have documented include:
- A teenager with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder and previous suicide attempts who has valid IFHP coverage is cut off from essential psychiatric medications
- A woman very late in her pregnancy is turned away by her regular doctor despite being eligible for IFHP coverage.
- A man requiring urgent eye surgery to prevent blindness is refused IFHP coverage because he is said to be an “illegal migrant expected to leave the country”. Ten days later he received notification from Citizen and Immigration Canada that he is eligible for permanent residency status.
- A young female refugee claimant is 18 weeks pregnant as a result of a sexual assault while being used as a sexual slave. She has no IFHP coverage to address the pregnancy.
- A refugee claimant, 36 weeks pregnant, is told by her obstetrician that IFHP will no longer provide insurance for her pregnancy or delivery and to bring in $3000 for her next appointment. After weeks of anxiety and investigation, the IFH program admits they made a mistake and the woman will be covered.
- A male refugee claimant experiencing chest pain and having characteristics that makes his physician suspicious of tuberculosis is not eligible for a chest x-ray.
- A refugee claimant, 32 weeks pregnant, presents at two emergency rooms suffering from lower abdominal pain. On both occasions she is told that she would have to sign a document stating that she would be responsible for the costs of her visit. She leaves the emergency room on both occasions without being seen.
Quebec has filled the gap left by the federal government, and last week Saskatchewan Premier Brad Wall called the impact of the cuts “unbelievable.”
We have previously blogged about actions that health care providers, LHINs, and the Ontario Ministry of Health and Long Term Care can take to reduce the unfair and inequitable health impacts of the cuts to the IFHP. This week, the Canadian Healthcare Association joined health care professionals and associations from across the country in calling for the federal government to reverse the cuts. Another important resource is an upcoming CHNET-Works webinar, featuring Kevin Pottie, Janet Cleveland, and Ritika Goel, on the impact of the cuts to universal health coverage in Canada.
The negative health outcomes caused by the cuts to the IFHP are unfair, inequitable, and avoidable. The federal government must immediately reinstate these essential health benefits for people who are amongst the most vulnerable people in Canada.