Ontario, Ottawa in war of words over refugee health care

BY Gerald V. Paul

“Stunning” “Irresponsible,” are among the words carefully selected by Ontario’s Health Minister Deb Matthews and Premier Kathleen Wynne respectively, over Citizenship and Immigration Minister Chris Alexander publicly scolding their government’s decision to reduce the level of health care available to refugee claimants.
Alexander said Ontario was compromising the integrity of the system by putting “bogus” asylum seekers and “failed” refugee claimants ahead of Canadians who are seeking health-care services and refugees who are in need of real protection.
He stressed, “This decision is irresponsible as it makes Canada, and Ontario in in particular, a magnet for bogus asylum seekers.”
Ontario introduced a new programme, effective January 1, that will provide refugee claimants with access to primary care and urgent hospital services as well as medication coverage regardless of their refugee status, following cuts to a federal programme that administers temporary health-care benefits to refugee claimants.
Matthews posits that cuts to the Interim Federal Health Programme, which administers temporary health-care benefits to refugee claimants, brought “chaos” to health-care providers in communities where there are a large number of refugees.
“Doctors were forced to ask questions like ‘what country did you come from, when did you did you arrive, what stage are you in your claims process’. It was very, very difficult for providers to figure out who was covered and who wasn’t.”
The Ontario Temporary Health Care Programme will provide medical care to refugee claimants regardless of their immigration status. Ontario’s decision to administer these benefits is significant because 48,900, or 55 per cent, of all refugee claimants in Canada live in the province.
Matthews said Ontario has estimated it will cost the province $20 million a year to fill the gap in the health-care coverage for refugee claimants, but that she’ll be sending the bill to Ottawa- even if health care falls under provincial jurisdiction.
“The federal government has a very clear responsibility to provide care to refugees. We will not absorb it and pretend that it’s our responsibility, because it’s not. I will annually deliver bills to the federal government ,” Matthews said.