Liberals restoring health-care benefits for refugees
Published Thursday, February 18, 2016 1:00PM EST
Last Updated Thursday, February 18, 2016 5:39PM EST
The Liberal government has announced it’s restoring the Interim Federal Health Program to provide health-care coverage to all refugees and asylum claimants.
Minister of Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship John McCallum said that as of April 1, 2016, refugees will be able to access the same basic, supplemental, and prescription drug coverage they had before the program was changed in 2012.
Eric Hoskins, Ontario’s minister of health and long-term-care, said the provinces have had to bear many of those costs since cuts were made to the program.
“Canada has always been a welcoming home for those fleeing war, famine, persecution and other tragic circumstances,” Hoskins said in a statement Thursday.
“Providing these services is not only fair, it saves our health-care system money in the long-term by cutting down on costly emergency visits.”
As well, by April 1, 2017, the program will be expanded to cover certain services for refugees before they come to Canada. These services will include pre-departure vaccinations, services to manage disease outbreaks in refugee camps, coverage of the immigration medical examination, and medical supports during travel to Canada
The Interim Federal Health Program provides health care for refugees during the time between their arrival in Canada and the point when they can begin accessing provincial health care coverage. Prescription medications, dental and eyesight coverage are covered under the program.
The former Conservative government took away some of those provisions in 2012, suggesting the program had become too expensive and subject to abuse.
That led to a series of court challenges in which the Federal Court declared the program cuts unconstitutional.
Advocacy group Citizens for Public Justice said restoring the program is a way to recognize the “hard work and sacrifice” made by individuals, churches and community groups who take in refugees.
“CPJ has repeated called on the government to fully reinstate the (Interim Federal Health Program) for refugees and to include all privately-sponsored refugees in the program,” the group said in a press release. “Today that call has been answered.”
Minister of Health Jane Philpott told reporters Thursday that since the program was overhauled four years ago, the new system had become “an incredible administrative burden” that was so complex for health care providers and refugee claimants, it was virtually unmanageable.
She said some clinics had begun either refusing to treat refugees or were doing so “without remuneration.”
McCallum said restoring the program would reduce longer-term health care costs for the provinces because refugees who were not previously covered were often having to seek medical care from hospital emergency departments “where the costs were in fact higher than were they to receive health care through the normal channels.”