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4 Days Before the Shameful Cuts to Health Care for Refugees

On June 30th, one day before Canada Day, cuts to health care for refugees will be made by the federal government. These cuts will include access to vision care, dental care, prescription drugs and mobility devices for all refugees. For many refugees it will also include restrictions on primary and basic health care that all Canadians receive. This includes medical assistance during emergencies like heart attacks and even during child birth. Those children being birthed of course will be Canadian citizens, but they are still not entitled to receiving assistance during their delivery. What does this say about Canada and our values? And what is our government saying on our behalf to all newcomers?

Refugees come to Canada fleeing famine, torture, and violence. They are looking for a safe haven. They may enter this country physically, mentally and emotionally harmed. But regardless of the injuries, they will be denied basic primary care. Only when a refugee threatens the safety of public health will many of them receive any medical attention. Doctors have been incredibly effective at getting their message against these cuts to the media and the public. We applaud their courage and passion to assist Canada’s most vulnerable. Their newest protest against these cuts is available for viewing online.

My favourite part of this action was when Dr.Chris Keefer said, “the Minister will be disrupted from this point on. Members of the Conservative government will be disrupted from this point on”. Not to be overly dramatic, but seeing a doctor supported by other doctors, in a room full of media, tell MP Oliver that he and his government would be called out at every announcement from now on by doctors across Canada gave me goosebumps. “Go docs” is all I could say while watching it. The Conservative government is attempting to defend itself with statements like: “We don’t believe it’s reasonable to force taxpayers to pay for supplemental extra health benefits for recently arrived refugee claimants that are not available to Canadians who pay into the system themselves.” But again, many of the benefits that are being cut are available to all Canadians, so this statement is hardly fair. And really, I can’t imagine Canadians have been super upset over helping people who have just suffered from crimes against humanity- that simply isn’t the Canada I know. Let’s crunch the numbers for a minute:

  • The Interim Federal Health Program (which covers the costs of health care for refugees), cost the government $84 million last year. That is 0.04 per cent of the nation’s health bill.
  • In other words, for every refugee to be able to access health care services in Canada, it costs 59 cents from every Canadian. 59 cents…that sounds like a pretty good use of my money!
  • The savings will amount, according to the federal government, to $100 million over the next five years. If we spend roughly the same amount of money each year, that’s $20 million a year.

But let’s not forget that overtime these cuts will actually costs us more money. If we leave people without any access to health care, what happens when they become eligible for medicare? Those small wounds and illnesses may now be massive health issues that require immediate and continuing attention. More visits to the Emergency department or long term stay in the hospital is the most expensive way to access health care. It just doesn’t make financial or social sense.

In a last attempt to save refugees from this mean spirited and inhumane cut, the Doctors for Refugee Care have released a statement pleading Kenney to stop these cuts. But if Kenney doesn’t listen, doctors across Canada have promised to monitor and track the consequences of these cuts. The federal conservatives call this move fair and equal. I call it mean and shameful. What a way for people to be introduced to their new country after fleeing horrific circumstances. Please write to Kenney or Harper and demand that these changes not be made. Let’s save Canada’s international reputation of providing safe haven and let’s treat our newcomers with the respect, dignity, and maybe even a dose of kindness that all people deserve. That’s not to say that health care for refugees is charity, it’s an investment.