Calgary family faces $220K in medical bills as refugee claim goes through the system
Published Tuesday, October 6, 2015 2:34PM EDT
A family from Colombia now living in Calgary is facing medical bills of more than $220,000 as they wait for their refugee claim to go through the system.
Since fleeing the violence in Colombia seven years ago, John Fredy Duque and his family have been making a life for themselves in Calgary, working and paying taxes.
Since their initial refugee claim was rejected in 2011, the family is appealing on humanitarian and compassionate grounds. Their case is currently before Immigration Canada's "backlog reduction office" in Vancouver.
But this past summer Duque had a health crisis that landed him in hospital.
"I was at the lake trying to get into a boat when I fainted," he told CTV Calgary in Spanish. "I was taken to hospital where they told me I was having a heart attack."
He had surgery while in hospital, and was billed more than $200,000.
Then doctors discovered his daughter, Alejandra, had cysts that had to be removed from her fallopian tubes. The hospital billed her $20,000 for the procedure.
The family applied to have their bills covered under the federal "Interim Federal health Program Policy," but were told that the program would only apply in their case if they had an illness that is contagious and is therefore a public health concern.
The family's lawyer, Jean Munn, said the bills have been a tremendous burden for them to bear.
"Refugee claimants, who are here working in Canada, regardless of whether they're working for minimum wage or working for a very good living, have no coverage whatsoever," she said. "In my view, that's not fair."
Most refugee claimants in Canada used to have access to health care coverage , but the Conservatives changed the policy in 2012, in part because they believed it would help deter bogus claims.
A group of doctors and lawyers challenged the new policy in court and won, but the government appealed the decision and the case is scheduled to be heard at the Federal Court of Appeal later this month.
In 2014, the government set up a temporary plan that offers limited, temporary health care benefits to certain resettled refugees and refugee claimants who are not eligible for provincial or territorial health insurance.
Some provinces have set up programs to fill some of the gaps after the government cut the coverage, but the Canadian Council for Refugees says Alberta is not one of those provinces.
Currently, Duque's wife is the only member of the family who is currently employed. Duque had been working for a parking company, which has since shut down. Their daughter, Alejandra, is taking time off of work while she recovers from surgery.
Calgary's Colombian community is trying to help the family. A Go Fund Me page and a fundraising party have helped to raise $6,500.
"This is a very sad situation because it's inconceivable how a good family, a working family, a family that pays taxes here in Calgary and Canada cannot have health coverage," president of the organization Colombian Friends Cesar Castillo told CTV News.
As they wait for a decision on their case, the Duque family is also waiting for Immigration Canada to complete a health risk assessment report.
In an email to CTV Calgary, a spokesperson from Immigration Canada said that, due to privacy laws, it could not comment on individual cases, unless the family consents first.
Meanwhile, Alberta Health Services says it will work out a payment plan with the family to cover the bills.
With a report from CTV Calgary's Shaun Frenette