Doctors demand changes to proposed refugee health policy
Ottawa plan would cut medical services to many vulnerable refugees, including victims of torture
By Maureen Brosnahan, CBC News Posted: May 11, 2012 8:12 AM ET Last Updated: May 11, 2012 11:29 AM ET
Doctors like Meb Rashid, right, are concerned that a proposed federal health policy will directly affect the medical care given to refugees in Canada. (Women’s College Hospital)
Doctors across Canada are outraged that the federal government plans to eliminate health care services for some refugee claimants and limit the care provided to others. Many are now talking about taking action to protest against the move.
The plan, introduced by Citizenship and Immigration Minister Jason Kenney, means refugees fleeing unsafe countries would only be entitled to “urgent or essential services.” Some refugees would be denied all care, unless they have a disease such as tuberculosis, which would pose a risk to public health.
The move is scheduled to take effect at the end of next month.
“This is a dramatic change,” says Dr. Meb Rashid, director of The Crossroads Clinic at Women’s College Hospital in Toronto.
The clinic, which is affiliated with the University of Toronto, opened its doors about five months ago specifically to provide health care to refugees. It now has about 300 patients, who come from dozens of countries.
No access to medications
“My biggest concern is they won’t have access to medications,” Rashid says. “Some people will get very sick and we hope no one dies from this, but it is certainly a possibility.”
The Interim Federal Health Program offers basic health coverage to protected persons, refugee claimants and others who don’t qualify for provincial or territorial coverage. Last year it cost $84 million. The government says scaling it back will save about $100 million over the next five years.
The plan means some refugees will be denied all health services, except in cases where public health is at risk, according to Ana Curic, spokesperson for Jason Kenney. Still others will no longer receive supplemental benefits such as medications, dental care, vision care and mobility devices.
Pay or go without
That means refugees who are diabetic or who require medicine for chronic diseases or to treat infections will have to pay for it themselves or go without.
Rob Shropshire, interim director of the Canadian Council for Refugees, is concerned that new federal policy could impact the health of refugees. (Rob Shropshire)
“There’s a tremendous irony in that we’ve had patients come from refugee camps where they’ve had access to NGOs [non-governmental organizations] who’ve been able to give them diabetic medication or hypertension medications and then we invite them here, and what happens? They don’t have access to medications,” Rashid says.
In a news release, Kenney rationalized the move by saying Canadians should not pay benefits for refugees that “are more generous than what they are entitled to themselves.”
He added the move would also deter fraudulent refugee claimants from coming to Canada.
But Rob Shropshire, interim director of the Canadian Council for Refugees, based in Montreal, calls the move “mean-spirited.”
“It’s picking on vulnerable people who are coming here to escape torture, persecution, war and they are coming here to try to find safety and build a new life,” he says.
He says Kenney appears to be pitting Canadians against refugees.
“It fans misunderstanding of who refugees are and why they come here,” he adds. “It promotes an image that refugees are bogus fraudsters and in fact that is not the case.”
Patients will become sicker
“I think many of us feel the need to step up and inform people of the consequences,” Rashid says.
“These are folks who have lived through unimaginable trauma,” he says. “Just from a point of decency, to cut those people off from the care that they need just doesn’t seem like the Canada that I know.”
Article posted in Immigration, Reform, Refugees, Reports/Statistics/Opinions, etc.