Hot! Ottawa appears to back off on refugee health cuts

VancouverSun.com – health
July 3, 2012.    By Louisa Taylor, Postmedia News

The federal government appears to have quietly backtracked on sweeping changes to its refugee health policy, a move applauded by doctors even as it is denied by the immigration ministry.

Immigration Minister Jason Kenney announced reforms in April to the Interim Federal Health Program, which provides temporary health benefits to refugees until they qualify for provincial and territorial coverage.

Historically, the benefits included basic medical care as well as supplemental benefits such as pharmaceutical, vision and dental care, at a level similar to that provided by provinces to people on social assistance. It was given to most refugees, whether they came as part of a government resettlement program, were privately sponsored, or asked for asylum on arrival on Canadian soil. It also applied to rejected refugee claimants awaiting deportation. The cost of the program was estimated at $84 million a year.

When the changes were announced, a Citizenship and Immigration Canada press release said “the reformed pro-gram will end the coverage of supplemental health care benefits,” which Kenney said was motivated by a sense of fairness: “We do not want to ask Canadians to pay for benefits for protected persons and refugee claimants that are more generous than what they are entitled to themselves.”

Medical practitioners and refugee advocates denounced the introduction of more barriers to health care for what is an already vulnerable population. Eight national professional groups – including the Canadian Medical Association and the Canadian Nurses Association – called on the government to revoke the reforms.

Then, on Friday, Citizen-ship and Immigration’s web-site was changed to say supplemental benefits would not be cut for a large group of refugees, specifically those selected and resettled from abroad by the government (government assisted-refugees) and those privately-sponsored refugees who receive federal financial assistance. Previously, the “Summary of Changes to the Interim Federal Health Program” (posted in April) clearly showed as of June 30, all “protected persons” (including resettled refugees and successful asylum claimants) would lose the supplemental benefits. In an an email to Postmedia News, the minister’s press secretary firmly denied there had been any change.

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