Gaps in refugee health care continue

Canadian Council for Refugees
Media Release

For immediate release
4 December 2014

Gaps in refugee health care continue

The Canadian Council for Refugees (CCR) today expressed its continuing concern over gaps in access to health care for refugees, despite the changes introduced by the government on 5 November 2014. The changes were made to respond to the Federal Court ruling striking down the 2012 cuts to the Interim Federal Health (IFH) Program as “cruel and unusual treatment” in violation of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

“We were expecting the government to restore health care to what existed before the 2012 cuts, but there continue to be significant gaps,” said Loly Rico, CCR President. “For example, a pregnant woman trying to make a refugee claim has absolutely no coverage until her eligibility interview, which can mean several weeks’ wait. Before the cuts, she was covered as soon as she approached Citizenship and Immigration Canada to make her claim.”

Prior to the 2012 cuts, IFH coverage included coverage for “essential prescription medications”. However, according to the government’s current complex eligibility grid, many categories of people continue to be denied coverage for prescription drugs. This is so even though access to medications was a key concern for the Federal Court. In her decision, Justice Mactavish highlighted that the effect of the 2012 changes “is to deny funding for life-saving medications such as insulin and cardiac drugs to impoverished refugee claimants from war-torn countries such as Afghanistan and Iraq.” (para. 2)

Among those who still do not have coverage under IFH for prescription drugs are privately sponsored refugees and refugee claimants awaiting a decision on their claim.

The CCR underlines that the current IFH Program, which is broken into six different types of coverage, is overly complex and confusing, leading to major obstacles in access to health care for refugees. In a recent survey of its members, the CCR heard that many refugees are having serious problems receiving essential health services for which they have IFH coverage, in part because of confusion over who and what is covered.

The CCR is also perplexed by the unexplained decision by the government to repeal the 1957 Order in Council that provided the legal basis for the Interim Federal Health Program. The Program now depends solely on “ministerial authority”.

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Colleen French, Communication Coordinator, Canadian Council for Refugees, 514-277-7223, ext. 1, (514) 602-2098 (cell),