Toronto City Council passed recommendations from the Board of Health building on a Toronto Public Health report on medically uninsured residents. The Wellesley Institute, along with researchers, representatives from Community Health Centres (CHCs), Toronto Public Health, Women’s College Hospital Network on the Uninsured, Association of Ontario Midwives, and frontline physicians, played a “ferocious” role in acting for the equitable access and health of many medically uninsured residents in Toronto at recent Board of Health hearings. On the part of the Wellesley Institute, Bob Gardner presented the brief to the Board, as well as submitted a subsequent comment City Council to address the importance of this issue.
Uninsured populations currently face serious and damaging barriers to good health and access to health care. But these barriers and their inequitable health impact can be addressed through better policy. Although Toronto City Council, like many local governments, do not have direct control of policy levers that drive change on health inequalities and determinants of health, it does provide numerous programs and services that directly influence the health of individuals. Also, the City and Toronto Public Health have credibility and influence to collaborate and advocate change with provincial and federal governments.
The decision to pass the recommendations and report means that the City of Toronto is the first municipality in Canada to support health care access to all people in its jurisdiction. Further, City Council will:
- Request that the Ministry of Health and Long-Term Care (MOHLTC) in collaboration with the Local Health Integration Networks (LHINs) provide increased funding for community health centres (CHCs) and other primary care clinics that currently provide health care for uninsured residents
- Request that the MOHLTC and LHINs establish a centralized information source to promote programs and services available to uninsured residents for both users and practitioners, as well as Toronto Public Health working with service providers to ensure Access Without Fear policies at health care facilities
- Reaffirm to the Federal Minister of Citizenship and Immigration Canada (CIC) its support to rescind the cuts to the Interim Federal Health Program (IFHP)
- Request that CIC, MOHLTC, and LHINs undertake initiatives to educate refugees, refugee claimants, community and settlement organizations and health care providers on the health care services covered by the IFHP
- Reaffirm to the MOHLTC its support for the elimination of the three month wait period for OHIP coverage for new immigrants.
The passing of this report builds upon Toronto’s recent adoption of Access Without Fear policies for undocumented immigrants, and on a grander scheme, demonstrates Toronto’s leadership in addressing health care inequities in our city. However, the development and adoption of such policies are rendered ineffective unless the government implements and ensures that they are consistently in place. With this in mind, we must continue to gather evidence and collaborate together to provide advice and recommendations for decision-makers, with aims to create a more equitable Toronto.