These changes have been widely criticized by health professionals and immigrant-serving agencies. Many argue that these cuts will exert more pressure on provincial health systems and therefore affect all Canadians’ health-care access. As more refugees are forced to forego preventive services because they cannot afford to pay out of pocket, many health care providers predict that reliance on emergency care will increase.
Other health care providers have pointed out that basic health care is necessary in order to learn when someone has a communicable disease. For example, by the time a tuberculosis patient goes to an emergency room, s/he will likely have already infected others. These changes therefore will have a negative impact on public health and safety.
Starting June 30, individuals in Group 1 will lose all health-care coverage except when there are public health or public safety concerns.
Individuals in Group 2 will get to keep coverage for urgent or essential hospital, doctor or diagnostic services. However, their access to medications will be limited to situations where public health or public safety conditions exist.
Some other important facts:
- In Ontario, accepted refugees and protected persons are immediately eligible for OHIP. This does not change. No 3 month waiting period is required, nor is the need to wait until permanent resident status is granted. It is unclear why resettled refugees don’t benefit from this, but they do not.
- The Minister of Citizenship and Immigration can extend coverage to individuals or groups in “exceptional and compelling circumstances”. It is not yet clear how that process would be triggered.
- Hospitals cannot turn people away who need emergency treatment because of inability to pay. They can and do, however, bill patients for their services if there is no medical coverage.
- HIV treatment will still be covered for everyone who is presently covered by IFH, even refused claimants and DCO claimants.
- People in receipt of Ontario Disability Support Program (ODSP) benefits or Ontario Works drug plans, as well as those who receive supplemental benefits through their employer or a drug plan for senior citizens, will not have those benefits affected by these changes.