Understanding what cuts Ottawa made to refugee health care
Syrian refugee child Jana Makkiyeh, 3, whose family comes from Damascus, Syria, holds a teddy bear while standing near her family's tent at a makeshift camp for asylum seekers in Roszke, southern Hungary, Thursday, Sept. 10, 2015. (AP / Muhammed Muheisen)
Stephanie Levitz, The Canadian Press
Published Friday, September 18, 2015 4:42PM EDT
OTTAWA -- Issues related to refugees continue to come up on the campaign trail, most often linked to the Syrian refugee crisis.
But the Liberals and the NDP have also both attacked Conservative Leader Stephen Harper over refugee health-care coverage.
Harper sparked some controversy Thursday night when he said changes being made to that coverage was something both new and "old stock" Canadians agree with and he defined that term further Friday by saying he meant descendants of immigrants for one or more generations.
He said he was addressing the erroneous claim made by his opponents that all refugees had their health care cut, arguing the changes were limited to "those refugee claimants who have failed and are clearly bogus."
Here are five things to know about the state of refugee health care coverage in Canada.
1. The interim federal health program was set up after the Second World War to help refugees, because at the time, Canada's health-care system was private and those arriving here had no access to any kind of care. Over time, it morphed to cover both basic and extended health-care costs like vision and dental care until refugees or refugee claimants could apply for provincial coverage or social assistance. But in 2012, the Conservative government overhauled the program, citing a need to save money, their belief the benefits were one of the reasons people made fake refugee claims and that what taxpayers were covering was more generous for would-be Canadian residents than actual residents.
2. Coverage for refugees was affected. Prior to 2012, all refugees resettled to Canada had both basic and supplemental health care covered. After 2012, the categories were divided. Now, for example, some privately sponsored refugees -- such as many Syrians currently being admitted to Canada -- do not get drug coverage but refugees directly sponsored by the government directly do.
3. Coverage for those not yet declare refugees was also changed. People who apply for asylum upon arriving in Canada are known as refugee claimants while their applications are being decided. The 2012 changes saw coverage for things like eye care, dental or therapy cut and if their claim was rejected their coverage was further scaled back, according to whether or not they can be deported or if they had the right to appeal the rejection.
4. Where a person is from matters. Under the Conservatives' broader refugee program reforms, refugee claims from a specific list of 42 countries are now treated differently from claims made from other countries. Under the changes to health care, that includes how much coverage the government would pay for -- for people from those 42 countries, coverage was limited to treatment for issues that could pose a public health risk, even if claimant was a child or pregnant.
5. But the system is in flux. Following the 2012 changes, refugee claimants sued, arguing their charter rights were being violated. They won and the court ordered benefits for all to be re-instated. The government sought a stay of the decision pending appeal, but the court refused to grant it. So the Conservatives were forced to introduce a new health-care coverage plan, which doesn't reinstate all the benefits but does give full coverage back to, among other people, children and pregnant women while they await a determination on their claim. The Federal Court of Appeal hearing on the case is scheduled for Oct. 26.