# Monday, October 22, 2012
                 
Refugee Health Care

Background Information

The Canadian federal government announced back in April of this year that health benefits received by Canadian refugees would get the axe.

These proposed changes primarily stemmed from the illegal arrival of refugees that arrive in Canada by traveling in ships crammed with people from various countries. In particular, the arrival of an Indonesian ship into Victoria Harbour in October of 2009 (carrying dozens of refugees) received particular media attention.

These changes were to take effect on June 30. However, a couple of days prior to June 30 the government amended the proposed policy changes, since the new legislation would have included "government assisted" refugees (refugees that are sponsored by the Canadian government as a result of international commitments, such as United Nations initiatives like the Haiti relief effort). As a result these government sponsored refugees will still be eligible for health benefits.

Surveys have approximated that these cuts will save the Canadian tax payers about $20 million a year.

Refugee Health Benefits

IFHP (Interim Federal Health Program) is the federal program that dictates what type of health benefits government sponsored refugees receive. Health benefits consist of things such as:
  • Hospital services
  • Laboratory and diagnostic services
  • Ambulatory services
  • Medications and vaccines (only to prevent a risk to public health)
  • Limited prescription drug coverage
  • Limited dental care
  • Limited vision care (eye glasses, etc.)
  • Prosthetic devices;
  • Home care
  • Long-term care
  • Psychologists

Canadian Reactions and Advocacy Groups

Many Canadians get upset by the manner in which some boat refugees arrive in Canada. They are seen by many to be jumping the queue since they do not follow standard protocol when it comes to applying for Canadian refugee status. (What most Canadians do not realize, however, is that many people that have valid reasons for fleeing their country of origin only have one realistic option, which is applying for refugee status upon arrival in Canada).

What seems to especially irk many Canadians is that refugees receive better health benefits compared to Canadian citizens. While provincial healthcare coverage differs from province to province, generally speaking Canadians have seen their provincial healthcare coverage cut back, in some cases in a drastic manner. Provinces no longer provide dental coverage, and coverage for vision care and prescription drugs has also been reduced or eliminated. In other words, Canadians do not get the same level of healthcare compared to refugees.

As a result, public opinion for the most part supports the cutting of non-government sponsored refugee healthcare.

But is this general consensus based totally on facts, or is it an emotional, knee-jerk sort of reaction?

Advocate groups argue that the elimination of healthcare for refugees will have a huge impact on people that truly do need our help. For example, refugees that are sponsored by churches and other individuals will not have access to prescription drugs that might save their lives. For the most part, these refugees come from war-ravaged countries, and have little if any money when they come to Canada. If these refugees require life saving medication they have one option: to die in Canada, while drugs that could save their life sit on a shelf a short distance away.

Conclusion

Health benefits for Canadian refugees is a very divisive topic. Canadians tend to have strong feeling about this, regardless of their position.

Is it possible that a compromise would have worked? Coverage could have been divided into two parts: life saving health benefits (e.g. prescription drug coverage for possibly fatal health ailments) versus benefits that are not life saving (e.g. vision care).

Unfortunately, we will never know. The elimination of health benefits for non-government sponsored refugees is a done deal.

It's sad to think that people who flee persecution and war might make it to Canada, just to die because they cannot afford the medication they need.

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