Refugees are among the most vulnerable people in Canada. They have experienced persecution in their home country and, as a consequence are at greater risk of poor health, especially mental health. Historically, these health needs were recognized by the Interim Federal Health (IFH) program, which ensured that refugees had access to health care services that were similar to what provincial or territorial programs cover for Canadian citizens and residents.
This changed, however, in mid-2012 when the federal government made cuts to the IFH program that resulted in the effective elimination of health care coverage for many refugees and refugee claimants and reduced access to health care services for most. The new program provides different health care services to various categories of refugees and claimants.
The fundamental problem with the new IFH program is that many refugees and claimants are not able to access health care services when they need them. When the IFH cuts were first announced, an analysis by the Wellesley Institute predicted that the new policy would have adverse and inequitable health impacts.
A new Wellesley report – The Real Cost of Cutting the Interim Federal Health Program – updates this work. Our new research finds that refugees and claimants are foregoing medical treatment even in emergencies, lack access to basic primary care, are incurring significant medical bills that they are unable to pay, and are being denied care even when they are eligible for IFH coverage owing to administrative problems. The new IFH program is inconsistent, unfair, and contributes to poor health for refugees and claimants.
But these negative outcomes are avoidable. The federal government should reinstate the full IFH program and, until this happens, provinces should provide health care services to refugees and claimants.
Refugees are already at greater risk of poor health. The cuts to the IFH program increase these risks and create even greater health inequities. The evidence is clear: refugees and claimants must have access to health care services restored.