Yesterday afternoon, the Wellesley Institute’s Steve Barnes made a deputation to the Toronto Board of Health about the upcoming changes to the Interim Federal Health Benefit (IFHB). Barnes spoke about the results of our Health Equity Impact Assessment, which found that:
- Refugees are amongst the most vulnerable people in Canada and are therefore hugely impacted by decisions that reduce access to health care.
- The changes to the Interim Federal Health Benefit will reduce access to health care and have negative and inequitable health impacts on all refugees.
- Those refugees in less-preferred categories, who will lose access to even basic health care services, will be more severely – and inequitably – impacted.
- Women and children will be disproportionately affected.
- The changes to the IFHB will result in refugees foregoing or delaying care, which will lead to even greater health problems in the future and increased use of hospital emergency departments. This cost will be borne by provincial and municipal levels.
The Board of Health also heard from several medical doctors who will see the impacts of cuts to the IFHB first-hand. Dr. Meb Rashid, Medical Director of the Crossroads Clinic at Women’s College Hospital that serves the uninsured, made an excellent case to the Board that providing medical care to some refugees only when there is a “public safety concern” will result in poorer health for refugees and will increase the risk of communicable diseases spreading throughout the population. Dr. Rashid also spoke about the contradictions in providing diagnostic care to some preferred categories of refugees while refusing to cover the prescription drugs that are required to manage illnesses.
The Board of Health accepted the Medical Officer of Health’s recommendation to ask the federal government reinstate the IFHB and asked the Ontario Minister of Health and Long Term Care to take an advocacy position on this issue.
Many medical and community groups have expressed their outrage about the changes to the IFHB. Prominent medical groups across Canada – including the Canadian Medical Association, the Royal College of Physicians and Surgeons of Canada, and the Canadian Nurses Association – have written to Minister Kenney to express their extreme concern about his decision, and on Monday, June 18 Canadian Doctors for Refugee Care are organizing a day of action.