Vancouver medical workers protest changes to refugee health program
Health-care workers concerned with changes to Canada’s Interim Federal Health Program protested in downtown Vancouver today (June 18) against cuts they say will have significant implications for refugees.
“On July 1st, physicians will need to tell their patients with chronic and acute illnesses, that the medications that are essential to their health and life are no longer available to them,” Bob Martin, a physician who works with refugees, told a crowd that included doctors in white coats, social workers carrying placards, and former refugees.
“Refugees who receive medication for heart failure, diabetes, seizures and many other problems in refugee camps will be cut off from these medicines in Canada unless they can pay for them themselves,” he added.
“As a consequence of these health-care cuts, many relatively simple health problems will become overwhelming and life-threatening—there will be children with epilepsy who won’t receive anti-seizure medication, there will be adults with heart failure who won’t receive diuretics, and there will be children who require insulin whose parents cannot provide it.”
The protest took place as part of a national day of action against the health-care reforms, including the end of most pharmacy benefits, and all vision, dental and other supplemental benefits, which are scheduled to take effect on June 30.
The federal government has said the changes are projected to save about $100 million over the next five years.
Jason Kenney, the Minister of Citizenship and Immigration Canada, said in a statement when the changes were announced that with the reform, the government is “taking away an incentive from people who may be considering filing an unfounded refugee claim in Canada.”
Some protestors today said many refugees are arriving after years in overseas camps.
“When we left our countries, we were coming from refugee camps, we were coming from being under very traumatic experiences,” Byron Cruz told the crowd outside the Citizenship and Immigration Canada office on Hornby Street.
“Many people have crossed borders, have walked thousands and thousands of kilometres to make themselves free, to make themselves safe. For many years we were feeling welcome—we are not feeling welcome anymore.”
“The minister has been telling Canadians that these cuts are a way of deterring bogus refugee claimants from abusing the generosity of the Canadian taxpayer, and it’s a compelling argument for the average Canadian,” said nurse Annette Floyd.
“But what the minister isn’t telling Canadians is that these cuts affect all refugees, legitimate or not. These are cuts that will deny eyeglasses to children coming out of refugee camps, who we then expect to succeed in school without being able to read the blackboard.”
Under the changes to the Interim Federal Health Program, urgent or essential health-care coverage will be provided to refugees. Medications and vaccines will be covered only when needed to prevent or treat a disease posing a risk to public health or public safety.
Refugee claimants from “designated countries of origin” and rejected refugee claimants will be provided health care services or medications only for a disease posing a risk to public health or safety.
The designated countries of origin policy is scheduled to take effect under Bill C-31, the Protecting Canada’s Immigration System Act, which passed in the House of Commons last week and is currently at second reading in the Senate. According to the federal government, the list is intended to deter abuse of the system from what it says are a disproportionately high number of refugee claimants from countries that are considered safe.
Family physician Martina Scholtens, who works with refugees, said illnesses that could put the public at risk could be difficult to diagnose and treat without access to primary care or a family doctor.
“That delay in diagnosis—that is a danger to Canada’s public health,” she said.
“Hampering delivery of preventive care is unlikely to result in cost savings, because delays in seeking care for chronic disease usually result in emergency room visits, hospitalizations, and intensive follow-up care,” she added. “It makes more sense to provide insulin...and primary care to a diabetic than to pay to rescue them from a diabetic coma.”
The protest in Vancouver today coincided with similar events scheduled in cities across the country, including Ottawa, Toronto, Montreal, Halifax, Winnipeg, Calgary, and Edmonton.