Health is a right and not a privilege. Yet, in Canada, there are an estimated 500,000 people, half of whom reside in Ontario, who are denied healthcare coverage due to their immigration status. This includes new immigrants in the three-month waiting period, temporary foreign workers between contracts, some international students, non-status individuals pending response to various immigration claims, and even returning Canadian citizens who have left the country for a period of time.
In Ontario, it is estimated the over 200,000 people are denied access to the province’s public health insurance OHIP (The Ontario Health Insurance Plan). The Council of Canadians is one of the core groups involved with organizing the OHIP For All campaign to demand the Ontario government provided equitable health coverage to everyone.
Yesterday morning, the OHIP For All campaign was officially launched. The Council of Canadians and health allies dropped banners off overpasses in Toronto and provided information for commuters to learn more about the campaign.
Michael Butler, Health Care Campaigner with the Council of Canadians, stated, “The Ontario government should provide OHIP coverage for everyone. Our patchwork system leaves too many people behind, and leads to preventable and costly negative health outcomes in Ontario’s communities… In a province that prides itself on being welcoming to newcomers, it is time the government put its money where its mouth is and provide the fundamental health coverage every human deserves.”
The Council of Canadians supports the campaign’s demands which are explained in an open letter to Premier Kathleen Wynne and Health Minister Eric Hoskins (individuals and groups can still sign on). The open letter calls for:
End OHIP’s three-month waiting period for new immigrants, temporary foreign workers, migrants newly approved for Permanent Residency and returning Canadians;
Provide OHIP coverage to those left uninsured with temporary status, including temporary foreign workers between contracts and international students;
Provide OHIP coverage to those left uninsured while inland immigration sponsorship, humanitarian and compassionate status applications are pending;
Provide OHIP coverage to those left uninsured due to being non-status while residing in Ontario.
(Images 1-3, Photo Credit Peterborough Examiner)
Rallies took place across Ontario in Toronto, Hamilton, Mississauga, Ottawa, London, Kitchener and Peterborough. In Peterborough, the examiner reports that, “Advocates rallied together at the Peterborough Square on Tuesday to support the new province wide OHIP for All campaign.” Roy Brady from the Council of Canadians stated, “We have a universal health care system and obviously it has to apply to everybody who is a resident of the province. People on immigration status are residents, they deserve healthcare if they need it.”
In London the local Council of Canadians Chapter joined with health care allies to rally at Victoria Park. Jeff Hanks, from the London Health Coalition highlighted that, “People wait until they are on death’s door and they go to hospital and the hospital says ‘well you have to pay up front… What kind of Ontario do we want to live in? One that’s inclusive and has health care for all which has been shown to be more cost effective. An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.”
In Hamilton, Bushra Khan, a first-year medical student at McMaster University, explained, “As a society we want to provide good health care and health care that allows everyone to live a good and meaningful life… You can prevent so many issues downstream that cost significantly more money if these individuals have to continue to access emergency care.” In Kitchener, Brendan Lew, a medical student at McMaster University’s Kitchener campus, pointed out, “Across Ontario, there are approximately 200,000 people who are uninsured and unable to access proper health care…The population of Kitchener is approx 200,000 so there is effectively a hidden city of Kitchener in Ontario that is not accessing the proper care, which is just a bewildering number. That is so scary.”
In Ottawa, Council of Canadians staff and supporters were present a Human Rights Moment where the rally was held. Dr. Conchita Fonseca, described how people without OHIP coverage often delay seeking treatment because of costs, and that studies show uninsured people were more likely to come into Ontario emergency rooms with more serious diseases and are more likely to die as a result of their illness.
In Toronto in front of the Ministry of Health and Long Term Care, Council of Canadians Health Campaigner Michael Butler started off the rally by explaining, “This campaign and this cause is about values and principles. It is about the society we want to live in. And it is worth remember above all else health is political. It is a result of values and choices, and we can have OHIP For All if we choose to. Quality public health care isn’t a privilege, it is a human right, and it shouldn’t be awarded to on a whim to some and not others… So, we’re here because believe that everyone in Ontario deserves equitable quality care and provincial health care coverage…”
Butler continued saying, “We believe people like Duncan McCorkell who was diagnosed with colon cancer while non-status, and denied life-saving treatment, and shouldn’t have to die. Or that people like Adil Yousif who (despite working in Ontario and paying taxes) was denied access to OHIP for treatment to save his legs from amputation while his humanitarian application was pending. There are countless other stories: children who have been turned away from emergency rooms because parents could not pay cash upfront; pregnant women who have foregone prenatal care for fear of unpayable bills, and so on. We know Ontario can do better and call on the government to implement OHIP For All.”
The rally heard from people like Astra, a single mother of 2 children from the Philippines who came to Ontario under the live in caregiver program who been working as a nanny for children and a caregiver for Seniors. She told her story of being uninsured. The rally also heard from Adil, who came to Canada to take care of an ailing family member. Adil was later diagnosed with diabetes and leukaemia, but was denied OHIP coverage and treatment for years (the star has more on these stories here).
It worth remembering that, “those without health insurance are active members of our communities: our neighbours, co-workers, friends, caregivers, farmers, and homebuilders. They make vibrant and vital contributions to Ontarian society, and yet are denied the basic human right to healthcare.” Sadly, in Ontario people have been turned away from emergency rooms and clinics, have been asked for cash upfront, have received massive bills and had collections agencies contact them. As Dr. Ritika Goel stated at the Toronto Rally, “People should no longer be denied access to care, they should not be turned away from emergency rooms, they should not be asked for large amounts of money.”
There are far too many stories like that of Justine, who got sick and was admitted to SickKids hospital. She was a permanent resident but was in the three month wait period and suffered a stroke as a complication of having chickenpox. She was in the hospital for two months; part of that time was spent in the Intensive Care Unit. The total bill was almost $100,000. While the hospital set up a payment plan her mother can only afford to pay $20 per month, so it will take her 375 years to pay this bill. She will be in debt for her lifetime.
Aisha was from Grenada and was 18 years old attending college in Ontario when she experienced another in a series of sickle cell crises and sought medical care at Scarborough’s only Community Health Centre. She was referred to the hospital emergency department and the emergency department Aisha was told she had to pay $350 before they would provide care. She was told her situation was not an emergency. Not having the money, Aisha explained that her sickle cell crisis would soon leave her unconscious as it had done before. Emergency department admitting staff told her that if she became unconscious, they would treat her without demanding payment first. Aisha seated herself near the triage station and waited. When she collapsed, she was taken in. After 3 days in hospital she received a bill for more than $5000.
It is stories like the ones above that highlight that we need to put humanity first and provide health care to all residents in Ontario. OHIP For All is about the society we want to live in. Don’t be confused by the xenophobia, dog whistle talking points and egregious myths some of the right wing media use to deny ethical health coverage to human beings in Ontario. Studies out of the US show that providing primary care to the uninsured actually reduces healthcare costs by decreasing the total number of days spent in hospital (I.E. It is cheaper to treat high blood pressure than it is to wait until someone has a stroke). Many other places in the world have recognized the importance of health for all residents and are doing a much better job than Ontario. For example, Spain provides healthcare coverage for all undocumented people that register as residents in their municipality, and most countries in Europe provide at least free ER treatment. We cover nothing. After the rallies across Ontario yesterday, Health Minister Erik Hoskins stated he, “Hoskins said he would take the group’s requests under advisement.” We look forward to working with the health minister to implement this long overdue policy change and provide OHIP For All.
The OHIP For All campaign is supported by a coalition of more than 400 health care professionals, community health centres, social service agencies, labour groups, and social justice organizations (easily representing over 800,000 Ontarians). The supporters include Toronto Public Health, The Association of Ontario Health Centres (representing Ontario’s 74 Community Health Centres, 11 Community Family Health Teams, 10 Aboriginal Health Access Centres, and 13 NP-Led Clinics), Access Alliance, The Association of Ontario Midwives, The Ontario Council of Agencies Serving Immigrants (representing 231 agencies across Ontario), Health Providers Against Poverty, Canadian Doctors For Medicare, The Ontario Health Coalition, The Canadian Health Coalition, The Ontario Nurses Association, The Ontario Federation of Labour, CUPE Ontario, Ontario Council of Hospital Unions, The United Steelworkers, Unifor, The National Union of Public Employees, The Ontario Public Service Employees Union, and many more.
The Council of Canadians is proud to support the OHIP For All campaign.