We’ve blogged in the past about the unfair 3 month wait period that Ontario forces on new immigrants and Canadian citizens returning to the province; refugees and those who have been denied asylum; people who have lost their documentation, such as the homeless and mentally ill; and those who are in the country illegally. There is widespread agreement amongst health professionals that this policy damages health and sets up our newest arrivals for ongoing poor health.
Over the weekend the Toronto Star ran a piece about the Community Volunteer Clinic for Medically Uninsured Immigrants and Refugees in Scarborough. The story provides an excellent overview of many of the challenges newcomers to Ontario face in receiving health care. The Scarborough Clinic is the only one of its kind in the GTA and sees 1,200 patients per year. This is in stark contrast to the over 5,000 people who used emergency departments from 2007-2008 who were uninsured. Worse, there are an estimated 30,000-100,000 undocumented workers in Ontario who have no health insurance, and 50,000 permanent residents arrive each year and are forced to wait 3 months before receiving health coverage.
The Wellesley Institute’s Dr. Bob Gardner was quoted in the story on the adverse impact and irony of denying access to health insurance: “You could say it’s even fraudulent to invite people to Ontario and then say to them when they get here, by the way, don’t get sick for a few months.”
As a recent immigrant to Canada, I understand this. I remember finding out that I wasn’t eligible for health insurance after I’d arrived in Ontario. I was astounded that I had to wait 3 months before I could access even basic health services without having to pay out-of-pocket. In my first few weeks in Ontario I met an Australian who had fainted in the street and hit her head. A passerby called an ambulance and she woke up while she was being treated at the scene. She pleaded with the paramedics not to take her to the hospital because she couldn’t afford the bill, but they took her anyway – she’d had a head injury, after all. After hearing this, I was terrified of having a medical emergency. I was lucky; nothing happened to me. I applied for my OHIP card on the first day I was eligible.
In the Star’s story, Hon. Deb Matthews, Minister of Health and Long Term Care, says that the 3 month wait period saves Ontario $90 million per year and the government has no plans to change the policy. However, it isn’t clear how this figure was calculated. It certainly does not take into account that people who cannot access health services for 3 months become sicker and therefore require more (and more expensive) health services once they become insured. The idea that refusing new Ontarians access to health care saves money is not supported by the evidence.
The Wellesley Institute participates in the Women’s College Network on Uninsured Clients Committee – a group of organizations, health professionals, and individuals who advocate for the 3 month wait period to be eliminated. Women’s College Hospital is hosting the Seeking Solutions Symposium in February 2012 – a forum to examine ethical and legal debates, present emerging research evidence, share policy and practice experience, and develop concrete guidelines, recommendations and action plans to address this pressing health care & service delivery need. Registration is open now.