Recently, Canada’s Minister of Citizenship, Immigration and Multiculturalism, Jason Kenney, announced changes to the Interim Federal Health Benefit, which provides basic health insurance for refugees. The changes, which come in the context of the government creating categories of preferred and non-preferred refugees, will substantially reduce and in some cases completely eliminate access to health care for refugees. Refugees are amongst the most vulnerable people in Canada, and any reduction in access to essential health care services will have significant negative health implications.
The Wellesley Institute has prepared a Health Equity Impact Assessment (HEIA) of the proposed changes to the Interim Federal Health Benefit. HEIA is a tool used to analyze a new program or policy’s potential impact on health disparities and/or on health disadvantaged populations.
Our HEIA finds that the planned changes to the Interim Federal Health Benefit will have real – and inequitable – health impacts for refugees, especially those who are most vulnerable. The federal government’s decision will make accessing even basic health care services difficult for all refugees, even those who are in the preferred categories. The policy change will lead to increased numbers of refugees arriving in emergency rooms for reasons that could have been avoided, which will add to already long wait times and decrease the quality and responsiveness of care for refugees. Provinces and Territories will be left to pick up the bill for these avoidable medical costs.
The changes to the Interim Federal Health Benefit will result in the severe reduction or elimination of health care services for refugees who are in less-preferred categories. The negative health implications for refugees who will be unable to access even basic care unless it is “to prevent or treat a disease posing a risk to public health or a condition of public safety concern”, or, worse still, will have no health coverage, are severe and the impact is inequitable.
Women and children are at particular risk as their access to medical support if they suffer physical or emotional abuse will be eliminated. It is also likely that the prevalence of chronic conditions, such as mental health issues, will increase amongst vulnerable populations as a result of this policy change.
These negative and inequitable health outcomes can, however, be avoided. The federal government should not pursue the policy changes. As the very least, they should delay implementing the new Interim Federal Health Benefit policy until they complete a comprehensive HEIA that includes actions that will protect and promote the health of refugees in Canada.
Download the paper The Real Cost of Cutting Refugee Health Benefits.