Nearly two weeks have passed since the federal government cut health benefits for many refugees, and the real costs are beginning to show.
Dr. Anna Banerji, a specialist in children’s infectious diseases at St. Joseph’s and St. Michael’s hospitals, has gone public with a case of a four-and-a-half-year-old refugee girl who almost died of meningitis prior to the cuts to the Interim Federal Health Program. According to Dr. Banerji, if the girl were to arrive in an emergency department today she would have no health benefits and, if the meningitis was not treated and progressed, she could lose limbs, develop severe brain damage, or even die.
Positive stories have also emerged, including a Winnipeg optical clinic that donated glasses to a refugee child, claiming that, “it just seemed like the right thing to do.” While it is commendable for health professionals to donate their time and resources, it is no substitute for basic health care access for refugees.
On the eve of the cuts to the IFHP, Citizenship and Immigration Canada’s website was quietly updated and supplementary health benefits – drug, dental, and vision – were reinstated for government-assisted refugees. Minister Kenney called this change a “clarification.” While the reinstatement of these benefits was positive, refugees in the remaining 11 categories still lack basic health care access.
Health care professionals have established a Refugee Health Outcome Monitoring and Evaluation System that will monitor the effects of changes to the Interim Federal Health Program on adverse health outcomes experienced by refugees. This is an important tool for health care providers to provide qualitative data about real cases and preventable outcomes of the cuts to health benefits.
Minister Kenney has recently indicated, via Twitter (here, here, here, and here), that he intends to target Roma refugee claimants from Hungary because of their low claim acceptance rates when he names “safe” countries of origin. However “safe” Hungary may be in general, the persistent and systemic discrimination Roma people face there and in other European countries has been well documented. Critics argue that withholding basic health care from refugees is a very crude and cruel lever to regulate immigration and is not a fair or equitable way to address perceived problems in the refugee claims system.
The Wellesley Institute will work with provider and community partners to monitor the effect of cuts to the IFHP and will provide updates. In the meantime, read our health equity impact assessment, The Real Cost of Cutting Refugee Health Benefits.