The real costs of cutting refugee health benefits are coming

Canada is now just a few days away from cutting health benefits for refugees. The cuts will substantially reduce, and in some cases completely eliminate, access to health care for refugees.

The opposition to these cuts amongst health providers has been comprehensive. Dozens of leading professional groups have spoken out against these cuts, including the Canadian Network of Public Health Associations, College of Family Physicians of Canada, Royal College of Physicians and Surgeons of Canada, Canadian Association of Social Workers, Canadian Medical Association, Canadian Nurses Association, Canadian Association of Community Health Centres, Canadian Association of Midwives, and Ontario’s Council of Medical Officers of Health.

In our health equity impact assessment of the cuts, The Real Cost of Cutting Refugee Health Benefits, we demonstrated that the consequences of cuts to the Interim Federal Health Program are unfair, inequitable, and totally predictable:

  • Accessing even basic health care services will be difficult for all refugees;
  • Refugees will be forced to delay or forgo care, which will negatively impact their health;
  • Increased numbers of refugees will be forced to use emergency rooms for reasons that could have been avoided; and
  • Women and children will be particularly negatively affected, especially in cases of abuse.

Doctors have announced that they will keep records of any negative outcomes for patients that are due to cuts to the Interim Federal Health Program.

Provinces and Territories will be left to pick up the bill for these avoidable medical costs. The current Interim Federal Health Program cost the federal government $84.6 million in 2010/11. This is a mere 0.04 percent – less than one tenth of one percent – of the government’s program spending. For Provinces and Territories, the costs of picking up untreated health problems will far exceed this false saving.

Policy issues are often complex. This is not: the adverse and inequitable impact of these cuts is entirely predictable – and avoidable.