Ontario urged to eliminate OHIP wait

TheStar.com – news/investigations/immigration
Published On Thu Feb 03 2011.   Nicholas Keung, Immigration Reporter

In anticipation of a fall election in Ontario, advocates for immigrants are calling on the province to eliminate the three-month wait time for newcomers to access OHIP.

The Right to Health Care Coalition, a network of more than 30 Greater Toronto agencies, will launch a “postcard campaign” Friday to put the issue on the electorate’s radar.

“This is an attempt to turn up the gas in the pre-election period,” said Axelle Janczur of the Access Alliance Multicultural Health and Community Services, a coalition member.

In 1994, the Ontario health ministry introduced a uniform three-month wait period for all new immigrants and returning residents on grounds it allows officials time to confirm a patient’s resident status.

The policy, said to save Ontario $90 million a year, also serves as a “disincentive to persons moving to Ontario only briefly for the purpose of getting free medical services,” said a ministry spokesperson.

The campaign follows the recent move by the New Brunswick government to eliminate the three-month wait, leaving Ontario and British Columbia the only provinces with such restrictions in place.

Nazia Shafi got pregnant in February 2010, just before her family’s immigration application was accepted. They had applied from Dubai in 2003. When she arrived in Toronto in August, she was shocked the family didn’t have health coverage. Worse, private insurance would not cover her due to her pregnancy. She went with a midwife.

“I was astonished,” said Shafi, who worked as a business consultant in England. “We were in the U.K. on work permits but we got our health cards immediately.”

In Canada, a normal delivery in hospital costs $1,500, and $4,000 for Caesarean section.

“God forbid if something terrible happened to us and we had to pay for it,” said Shafi, whose photo with her bulging belly is on the cover of the campaign postcard

Janczur said immigrants must pass stringent medical exams to be granted admission to Canada as permanent residents and are unlikely to strain the health care system.

“They all come in good health and only need our health services in some unexpected and unanticipated events,” said Janczur, adding that newcomers don’t just wait for years to come to Canada for free health care and then return home.

She said early intervention can help immigrants better manage chronic conditions and avoid unnecessary health expenses in the future.

The coalition is asking for the wait period to be lifted for arriving permanent residents, but not Ontarians returning from other provinces or countries – ones who are more likely to have health conditions that strain the system.

More than 5,000 postcards have been printed at the expense of the individual coalition members. Supporters are urged to sign the postcard and send it to their members of parliament and Premier Dalton McGuinty.

The Wellesley Institute, Children’s Aid Society and Registered Nurses Association of Ontario have already endorsed the campaign.

< http://www.thestar.com/news/investigations/immigration/article/932980–ontario-urged-to-eliminate-ohip-wait >

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