The federal government, already under fire from the opposition over the budget and its “unenvironmental” features is facing fresh criticism following proposed healthcare cuts for refugees. On April 25, Minister of Citizenship and Immigration Jason Kenney announced cuts to the program, which provides temporary health care to refugee applicants who aren’t eligible for provincial or territorial coverage.Effective June 30, the Interim Federal Health Program (IFHP) will no longer include vision, dental or supplemental health benefits for current and future refugees.Prescription drugs, vaccines and medications will be covered only to prevent or treat a disease posing a public safety concern.
This week, a crowd of 500 people, comprising members of the medical fraternity—doctors, nurses, midwives, dentists and social workers—protested in front of Citizenship and Immigration Canada’s office on St. Clair St. at Yonge, demanding that Ottawa overturn the plan.
Minister Kenney’s argument in defence of his government’s policy is that basic healthcare will still be available to refugees, but supplementary benefits, which aren’t available to taxpaying Canadians, would no longer be provided to refugees. The projected savings of the cuts are about $100 million over five years. However, doctors argue that the cost of the cuts will actually be much higher as refugee patients run into complications with their health issues due to the limitations in the facilities now available to them. They question who will cover the cost of drugs such as high blood pressure medication and insulin for diabetics or prenatal vitamins for expectant mothers.
Given that Canada has had a consistent refugee acceptance rate of 40-45%, this might escalate into a bigger challenge than the government currently envisages. Even if the humanitarian aspect of the situation—that of refugees being among the most vulnerable of a country’s population—is overlooked, the practical dangers ensuing from these cuts can’t be ignored. It’s probably not too fair to measure the average Canadian taxpayer on the same scale as a refugee, who, having already lost much has to live in uncertainty.