The Jason Kenney and UCP supporting Alberta Can’t Wait political action group decided to go on Twitter recently and retweet some anti-refugee sentiment from a pro-Brexit, pro-Trump, Faith Goldy supporting account:
It also happened to be interesting timing as another Twitter user reminded us of a serious issue then Minister of Immigration Jason Kenney created in 2012, when he implemented broad cuts to the Interim Federal Health Program for refugee claimants.
Until June 30, the IFHP provided basic health coverage (hospital and doctor services and some diagnostic tests) and the supplemental health benefits which included drugs, dentistry, vision care and mobility devices.
At the time, the response from the medical community was fast and united.
The College of Family Physicians of Canada said:
Communications from the CFPC, as well as collaborative efforts with numerous other health care organizations, were directed to the former Minister of Citizenship and Immigration, Jason Kenney, and more recently with The Honourable Chris Alexander. Each letter or discussion appealed for reconsideration of the changes to the IFHP.
There were no clear benefits to reducing health care for refugees:
- Related costs would simply be downloaded to provincial and community health care services
- Reduced care would generate higher costs from increased use of emergency departments
- The risk of undiagnosed and untreated health issues would result in greater medical requirements and increased health care costs
- Not addressing health issues such as vision and dental care would make it more difficult for newcomers to acquire language and job skills
- From a legal perspective, the cuts were considered ‘cruel and unusual treatment’ with particular concern for the potential effects on children brought to Canada by their parents
- The cuts would have a negative impact on public health and safety for all Canadians
A letter equally as critical of the cuts was sent to Minister Kenney from the Canadian Association of Social Workers, the Canadian Association of Optometrists, Canadian Dental Association, Canadian Medical Association, Canadian Nurses Association, Canadian Pharmacists Association, College of Family Physicians, and the Royal College of Physicians and Surgeons.
The IFHP is a means to ensure health standards for a temporary period of time for refugee claimants, who are individuals fleeing political, social, or other forms of persecution. Due to their dire circumstances, these are individuals who have no other means of obtaining necessary health benefits for themselves or their families.
Your press release of April 25 suggests that cancellation of supplemental health benefits will save money. This, however, is not the case. First, cancellation of supplemental health benefits will merely download the cost of providing these services to provincial social support programs, community-based health programs
(such as community health centres), the charitable sector, and other public programs and organizations that provide the uninsured with health benefits. This added burden will be particularly acute in larger urban centres that traditionally have greater refugee populations.
Second, by failing to provide upfront health services, there is a risk of undiagnosed and untreated health problems resulting in an increase in both medical complications and future health care costs. These will ultimately impact the public system once these individuals are granted more permanent immigration status.
Furthermore, failure to address important health concerns including vision and dental care early will make it much more difficult for newcomers to acquire the skills necessary to learn Canada’s languages, go to school or enter the job market.
Third, those refugees with chronic diseases, such as diabetes or heart disease, will seek care in hospitals and through emergency departments – one of the most costly forms of care. And because refugees may only have hospital care covered in “urgent” or “essential” situations, timely treatments and disease management
is severely compromised. Further, changes to the IFHP could result in health care providers referring refugee patients to emergency departments and hospitals to ensure patients continue to receive medications and care for non-communicable diseases.
The CMAJ, a peer-reviewed medical journal, had this to say:
Citizenship, Immigration and Multiculturalism Minister Jason Kenney has so far failed to agree to repeated requests by national health care organizations for a meeting to discuss cuts to the Interim Federal Health Program (IFHP) providing health benefits to refugees.
“Mr. Kenney has displayed and exhibited a measure of contempt never before seen by a federal Cabinet minister to the leaders of the health professions in Canada,” says Dr. Philip Berger, head of family medicine at Toronto’s St. Michael’s Hospital and a leading member of Canadian Doctors for Refugee Care.
On May 18, 2012, Berger’s organization, the heads of the Canadian Medical Association, the Royal College of Physicians and Surgeons of Canada, the Canadian Nurses Association, the College of Family Physicians of Canada, the Canadian Dental Association, the Canadian Pharmacists Association, the Canadian Association of Optometrists, and the Canadian Association of Social Workers signed a letter decrying changes to the federal health program. Changes that took effect June 30, 2012, cut benefits to many categories of refugee claimants, failed refugee claimants and those who withdrew their claims, whether valid or not.
Subsequently, other national health care organizations including the Canadian Psychiatric Association and the Canadian Association of Midwives also wrote to Kenney opposing the cuts and requesting a response.
In Saskatchewan, the Sask Party’s health minister launched into criticism of Minister Kenney following a refugee being denied access to cancer treatment:
Saskatchewan wants review of refugee health cuts after man denied chemotherapy – Global News
The issue has come to the forefront because Ottawa denied chemotherapy to a refugee claimant in Saskatoon.
Duncan was not pleased with Kenney’s stance.
“That’s unfortunate that that’s the tone that the federal minister has taken,” he told reporters in Regina.
“It’s the federal government, not the provincial government, that runs the refugee system and so we have no way to dictate or determine how long that process takes.”
“For an individual to live in this province for what can be many months, if not years, waiting for a decision on the federal government and the court system of whether or not they’ll be allowed to stay in this province, to then leave that individual in limbo like this, that’s discouraging to hear that.”
The man arrived in Saskatoon several months ago after fleeing a Middle Eastern country where he was persecuted for being Christian. Soon after arriving, he started having abdominal pain and was diagnosed with cancer.
From the Toronto Star:
The plight of asylum seekers who can no longer access full health coverage while their refugee claims are being processed has set off a bruising clash between health professionals, who say Ottawa’s approach is inhumane, and the federal government.
Dr. Philip Berger, chief of family and community medicine at Toronto’s St. Michael’s Hospital, said it’s the worst treatment of refugees by Canada since the Second World War.
“What humane country would leave pregnant women, who need regular prenatal care, without any health-care coverage, or kids with fevers untreated in emergency departments?” Berger said in an interview.
The provinces have also expressed concern that the changes to the Interim Federal Health Program (IFHP) are endangering refugees’ health and shifting federal costs to hospitals and other health-care providers.
An open letter from the Registered Nurses’ Association of Ontario:
Toronto Public Health has compiled evidence of the negative health impacts of reduced federal health services for individuals and the broader community. Not only are these cuts egregious from a health and human rights perspective, health professionals and their organizations from across the country reject the federal government’s claim that the proposed cuts will save money. Citizenship and Immigration Canada might show a short-term, bookkeeping savings of $20 million per year but ultimately, the provinces, territories, and tax payers will need to pay the bill for complications of health conditions and emergency care – all more expensive than primary care. Some asylum-seekers will die, while others may experience complications if they hesitate to seek treatment. It is simply unconscionable that these cuts to the Interim Federal Health Program are being
even considered. Not only are they unfair, they will harm people who are already
vulnerable and cost the public purse more.
Ultimately, it took more than the knowledgeable response from Canada’s medical community to reverse Mr. Kenney’s decision. It took a federal court ruling which the Harper government appealed.
We’re fortunate to live in a country where people can stand and openly speak truth to power. Power however, should have the wisdom to consult experts and base decisions on science, on evidence, and on preserving and savings lives.
As a minister, Jason Kenney made an ideological decision, he did it without consultation with the medical community, and he attempted to download the issue onto the provinces when pressured for a response.
If he wants to be Premier of Alberta, let’s hope he’s learned something and grown as a decision-maker. But the unchecked rhetoric of his supporters does makes one wonder.