Federal immigration minister Jason Kenney thinks Canada needs to be better protected from refugees. Exactly what the new immigration bill, Protecting Canada’s Immigration System, is supposed to protect Canada against is unclear. Unfortunately, the harm it will cause is evident – to the lives, health and safety of refugees and refugee claimants; and to hospitals, medical professionals and provincial health care systems.
As of June 30, 2012, Stephen Harper’s Conservative government will cut many of the services currently provided to refugees through the Interim Federal Health Program (IFHP). Refugees claimants will have no access to preventative health care. Some claimants, those from “designated safe countries”, will be denied even urgent and emergency care. All refugees will lose access to prescription drugs, emergency dental care and vision care.
In a news release, Kenney said “we don’t want to ask Canadians to pay for benefits for protected persons and refugee claimants that are more generous than what they are entitled to themselves.” This is disingenuous. All Canadians have access to preventative health care, and many lower-income Canadians have drug, dental and vision care through provincial welfare programs. The federal government is creating yet another false dichotomy to justify its harsh austerity measures, as it is doing to deny rights and benefits to seniors, unemployed workers, unionized workers, and public servants. Now, refugees are also scapegoated.
The federal government’s claim that the changes will save money is dubious. Some of the long-term costs of limiting preventative health care will likely be passed on to provincial health care systems, when claimants become permanent residents. Canadian Doctors for Refugee Care, a national coalition created to protest the changes, says that cutting preventative and primary health care will threaten public safety and increase costs to taxpayers.
Refugee claimants have no access to provincial health care benefits. Currently, all health care is provided through the IFHP. As of June 30, claimants will receive, at best, only services of an urgent or essential nature. Preventative treatment and disease management will not be funded, heightening the risk of undiagnosed and untreated problems. Individuals may be more likely to go to or be referred to emergency departments, if they are denied access to lower-cost options. This may be a very expensive alternative, when Citizenship and Immigration Canada now pays only $552 per year for health care costs per refugee claimant.
Refugee claimants from the “designated safe countries” are losing almost all access to public health care, even emergency care unless there is a public health or safety concern. According to the federal government’s website, treatment can be provided for an infectious disease like tuberculosis, but not a life-threatening heart attack. A refugee claimant will receive treatment for a psychotic attack, but only if there is potential harm to others, not to the patient alone.
The federal government’s website fails to explain what hospitals and doctors are supposed to do when the patient’s life is in danger if there is no public risk. Claimants may be denied treatment based on their country of origin, even though they may still face persecution in this country, such as the Roma do in Central Europe despite Kenney’s statements to the contrary.
Denying access to drugs, dental care and glasses to children and adults, many of whom may have spent years in refugee camps or temporary residences, will limit educational, work and social opportunities. A child who cannot see will have difficulty learning and making friends. A diabetic adult without insulin may not be able to find or retain work. This new policy is in direct contradiction to the Conservative government’s responsibility for the settlement of refugees.
Mike Dillon, a family doctor who has worked with newcomers in the core area of Winnipeg for nearly 20 years, spoke to Mud and Water Radio about Bill C-31 on June 4. The audio of that conversation is available for download.
There is a National Day of Action for Refugee Health Care on Monday, June 18. In Winnipeg, the event is from 11:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. at the Forks (under the canopy).