Ontario is the latest province to reinstate essential healthcare coverage for refugees through a new temporary health program, becoming the sixth province to defy the federal government’s refugee health cuts.
The temporary health program will cover hospital, primary, specialist, laboratory, and diagnostic services for refugees in Ontario. Coverage under the program will kick in on January 1, 2014.
The federal cuts, implemented in June 2012, have been the topic of constant criticism as refugees’ advocates spoke out on the health risks refugees would be facing because of the cuts. “Since the federal health cuts a year and a half ago, we have seen pregnant women turned away from prenatal care and sick children denied treatment. Cancer patients are told they are not covered for chemotherapy,” said Dr. Phillip Berger of the Canadian Doctors for Refugee Care. “This government has been the most hostile and vicious to refugees since the Second World War. We are grateful for the new provincial health program.”
Since June 2012, Alberta, Manitoba, Saskatchewan, Nova Scotia and Quebec have rebelled against Ottawa’s health cuts. Ontario’s recent move appears to be the most significant, since 48,900 - or 55 per cent - of all refugee claimants live in the province.
According to the federal government, the cuts would save taxpayers $100 million over five years, while genuine refugees continue to receive comprehensive healthcare coverage on par with what Canadians receive. “Canadians have been clear that they do not want failed asylum claimants and asylum claimants from safe countries receiving better healthcare benefits than Canadian taxpayers,” Alexis Pavlich, spokesperson for Immigration Minister Chris Alexander, said. “Our government listened and acted with regard to Canadian taxpayers’ concerns on this issue, and we remain committed in our effort to preserve the integrity of our immigration system.”
According to Ontario health officials, almost one-third of refugee claimants were without health coverage as a result of the cuts.