Liberals cancel controversial cuts to refugee health care - Macleans.ca

Liberals cancel controversial cuts to refugee health care

‘This will help refugees, it will help health-care providers, it will help Canadians.’

by

OTTAWA — The federal Liberals are ripping up a patchwork system of health-care coverage for newly arrived refugees and those seeking refugee status in favour of blanket coverage for all, beginning in April.

Starting in 2017, they’ll also extend coverage to certain refugees before they even arrive in Canada, including picking up the tab for the medical exams they need to pass in order to move here.

“This will help refugees, it will help health-care providers, it will help Canadians,” Health Minister Jane Philpott said Thursday.

The interim federal health program was set up nearly 80 years ago to help address the health care needs of immigrants in the aftermath of the Second World War.

It eventually evolved to bridge the gap between arrival and the point when refugees become eligible for provincial health-care coverage.

In addition to basic medical coverage, it paid for things like prescription medications, dental and eye care for those who came as refugees and those who sought asylum upon arrival.

But the former Conservative government clawed back many of its provisions in a surprise 2012 move that was part of a broader overhaul of the refugee system and also a bid to save an estimated $20 million a year.

That led to a series of successful court challenges. A scathing 2014 decision from the Federal Court ruled that the cuts amounted to “cruel and unusual” treatment and put people’s lives in danger.

While the court decisions forced the Conservatives to bring back some of the benefits, they didn’t restore them all, instead creating over a dozen categories that frustrated health-care providers and claimants.

The Liberals pledged to restore the program in its entirety in their platform, and took the first step late last year, when they granted full coverage to all the Syrian refugees who were coming to Canada as part of the Liberal resettlement program.

Immigration Minister John McCallum said the restoring the old system will cost an additional $5.9 million a year and the extension of the program will cost $5.6 million beginning in 2017. But he said the money is covered by the existing $51 million a year budget for the program.

In the wake of the Conservative cuts, several provinces stepped forward to pick up the tabs on their own and one of them, Ontario, estimates it spent $2 million providing the extra care.