Refugee Health Care Restored

From The Catalyst, Spring 2016

The federal government will fully restore the Interim Federal Health Program (IFHP) to all refugees starting April 1, 2016.

“Canadians from many walks of life, from premiers to front-line health care professionals to Canadians who privately sponsor refugees, spoke with one voice in rejecting the changes made to the Interim Federal Health Program in 2012,” said John McCallum, Minister of Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship. “We have listened, and coverage will be restored.”

Citizens for Public Justice is celebrating, and across Canada refugees and their sponsors are sighing in relief—they no longer need to worry about how they will pay for their health needs.

The IFHP cuts removed supplemental benefits (including prescription medication, eye care, emergency dental care, prosthetics, and counselling) for privately-sponsored refugees. They also completely removed health care coverage for rejected claimants and claimants from Designated Countries of Origin – countries that don’t produce many refugees and that respect human rights.

Refugees that fell into these categories either had to find a way to pay for their health care, or go without.

CPJ released a report in 2014 entitled Private Sponsorship and Public Policy. It stated that roughly one-third of church-connected refugee sponsorship agreement holders had groups decrease or end their involvement in sponsoring refugees because of the liability created by lack of refugee health coverage.

Health care coverage needed to be restored, so CPJ and a wealth of other organizations spoke out. The Proud to Protect Refugees Campaign, launched by the Canadian Council for Refugees with the support of CPJ, called for organizations to make a public declaration of their support for refugees in Canada. CPJ sent two letters to then-Citizenship and Immigration Minister Jason Kenney, calling for the cuts to be rescinded.

CPJ also assisted in organizing a statement on Human Rights Day in 2013, demanding that the government reverse the cuts. The heads of the Anglican, Presbyterian, United, and Lutheran churches in Canada signed on.

Doug Gruner, an assistant professor at the University of Ottawa, has been deeply involved with the Canadian Doctors for Refugee Care. When he spoke at CPJ’s 2014 Annual General Meeting, he raised numerous concerns over the cuts. Gruner was confident that the government would follow through with their commitment to fully reinstate refugee health coverage. However, before McCallum’s announcement was released, he noted that the timing of their action was becoming crucial.

“Both providers and patients are still confused as to whether a certain type of refugee can claim coverage,” Gruner stated at the time.

In November, the government gave coverage to all Syrian refugees. Now that the government has committed to completely reverse the cuts, privately-sponsored refugees and claimants from countries other than Syria will finally receive coverage.

It appears that Gruner’s concerns will soon be resolved. He remains optimistic that practitioners, clinics, and policy-makers can work together to improve the system.

CPJ rejoices that its voice – and the voice of many concerned citizens and organizations – was heard, changes were made, and justice is being restored.

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