Put Canadians first

NationalPost.com – FullComment
13/07/12.   Laura Rosen Cohen, National Post

Canada is an incredibly generous country, and takes in thousands of immigrants and refugees every year. Most immigrants and refugees are just grateful to be given a second chance at life in such a magnificent country. Their passage to Canada — their freedom, and any other modest social assistance that is gifted to them through the magnanimous Canadian taxpayer — are generous and completely sufficient to start a new life.

On top of this, refugees do not deserve access to the same services as Canadian citizens. Priority for health care resources must go to citizens.

Refugee health care — which up until recently-included dental care not afforded to native born Canadians — is an unaffordable luxury and frankly, there is no reason to grant unlimited health care services to refugees who have not contributed anything into the communal pot, but who also will be displacing a Canadian citizen in line for our rationed, wait-timed care.

Nurse practitioner Vanessa Wright, who wrote in favour of health coverage for those awaiting a determination of their refugee status in these pages earlier this week, is extraordinarily lucky if she has only recently experienced Third World-style health care in Canada, and only a few times. The Third World sensation is, unfortunately, often a regular part of the experience for many Canadians who have medical emergencies or loved ones that need hospital care for their chronic or acute medical conditions.

I myself was in an emergency room last month with one of my children — delivered by ambulance from school. While the hospital was clean and air-conditioned, there was an unmistakably Third World feeling around us. There were at least a hundred people waiting for care, many of them seniors with complex care needs, moaning and groaning. Many were hooked up to IVs and oxygen. People with portable heart monitors waited on chairs, gurneys and even ambulance stretchers to get 30 or 40 seconds of triage time with the single ER doctor manning the emergency room.

It doesn’t get much better outside of the emergency room. Canadians face long wait times for surgeries, to see specialists and have expensive tests such as MRIs. Many citizens are without a family doctor. I have waited for almost a year to see many pediatric specialists for my son’s care, and almost a year for certain diagnostic tests or procedures. Why should a refugee come before my Canadian-born child?Canadian policy is certainly not, as Ms. Wright suggested, meant to deter refugees from coming to Canada by not offering health care. That is preposterous. The fact is that no matter how a refugee has suffered, whether emotionally or because of war or illness, a ticket to Canada is a reward in itself. The public health care system should not be asked to stretch itself even further for non-paying refugee users of the system. Last year alone, for example, the University Health Network in Toronto “absorbed” an $800,000 bill for services delivered to the uninsured in their emergency rooms. Other hospitals report similar dilemmas. The taxpayer is always on the hook.

Ms. Wright suggests that “every refugee that arrives in Canada deserves a fair hearing to determine their status. And while that process is underway, they deserve the benefit of the doubt, and the right to potentially lifesaving care that they could never afford.” There is no such right. What every refugee does get is a chance here at a new life, and the ability to either pay for the medical care — life saving or not — that they consume.

Canadians are a generous people, so refugees can, and many do, take their story public through the media and through the numerous non-profits that work on behalf of refuges. Funds can be raised to cover care costs, and medical professionals can donate their time. This is entirely fair and something every Canadian should encourage and support.

But Canada’s health care resources must be devoted to Canadians first, without apology or guilt.

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