Liberals restoring refugee health benefits cut by previous government

Fully expected: in the Liberal platform and Minister McCallum’s mandate letter. Another commitment met, another Conservative policy undone:

The Liberal government has restored refugee health-care benefits cut by the previous Conservative government.

Speaking at a joint announcement Thursday, Immigration Minister John McCallum and Health Minister Jane Philpott said the Interim Federal Health Program, which provides health-care coverage for asylum claimants and refugees, will be fully restored to pre-2012 levels.

“All refugee claimants and refugees will now be covered,” Mr. McCallum told reporters in Ottawa. “The system had disintegrated into something of such enormous complexity that it was virtually unmanageable.”

The Conservative government scaled back refugee health-care benefits in 2012, arguing that the cuts would deter “bogus” refugees from coming to Canada and save taxpayers money. The Federal Court eventually found that the changes were unconstitutional and ordered the government to reinstate the benefits, leading the Conservatives to restore some. The Tory government launched an appeal of the court’s decision, which the Liberals eventually dropped.

Before 2012, refugee claimants had their health-care costs covered by the federal government until their application for status was decided or they became eligible for provincial health-care coverage.

The health-care benefits will be fully restored as of April 1, according to Mr. McCallum. The coverage will include hospital and physician services, while coverage for supplemental services, such as vision, urgent dental care and prescription drugs, will be similar to what provinces and territories provide to Canadians on social assistance.

Dr. Philpott said the return to the pre-2012 program will “simplify everything.”

“There will be one path. Refugees, … whatever category they will fall into, they will be eligible for the basic levels of care in addition to some supplementary levels of care. And this will help refugees, it will help health-care providers and it will help Canadians,” she said.

The government’s announcement comes months after it committed to resettle tens of thousands of Syrian refugees, who were already receiving health-care coverage. An exemption in the 2012 law ensures that refugees being settled as a “result of a public policy or humanitarian and compassionate considerations on the minister’s own initiative” receive full access to health-care benefits.

The government also announced an expansion of the program to cover certain services for refugees who have been identified for resettlement before they come to Canada. Starting April 1, 2017, those services will include coverage of the immigration medical examination, pre-departure vaccinations, services to manage disease outbreaks in refugee camps and medical support during travel to Canada.

Source: Liberals restoring refugee health benefits cut by previous government – The Globe and Mail

Harper says only bogus refugees are denied health care. He’s wrong.

Good piece in Macleans:

Prime Minister Harper was indignant: “We have not taken away health care from immigrants and refugees. On the contrary, the only time we’ve removed it is where we had clearly bogus refugees who have been refused and turned down. We do not offer them a better health care plan than the ordinary Canadian can receive. That is not something that new and existing and old-stock Canadians agree with.”

Harper’s reference to “old-stock Canadians” got lots of attention. But what’s far more shocking, say refugee experts, is his stony denial of the truth: that the Conservative government has diminished the medical insurance provided to most refugees in Canada—tens of thousands of them, in fact.

As Maclean’s recently reported, the Conservative government made cuts to the Interim Federal Health (IFH) program in 2012 that drastically reduced the medical insurance provided to refugees who are privately sponsored or who make a refugee claim upon arriving in Canada. The two groups represent 59,285 of the refugees who came to Canada between 2012 and 2014, show the latest data from Citizenship and Immigration Canada and the Immigration and Refugee Board of Canada (IRB). The cuts also affect more than 7,000 “legacy claimants” who arrived before December 2012 and are awaiting their claim hearing, according to the Canadian Council for Refugees.

These groups of refugees no longer have health insurance for prescription medications, and “supplemental” coverage for services such as prosthetics, physiotherapy and counselling, as well as emergency dental and vision care. (Pregnant women and children have been granted temporary coverage for medications, until the federal Court of Appeal decides later this year whether the cuts should be reversed. Children also receive supplemental coverage.)

The only group not affected by the IFH cuts is government-assisted refugees, of which 18,646 were resettled in Canada between 2012 and 2014. They receive the same health insurance as the lowest-income Canadians.

“They’ve repeatedly tried to sell the cuts to the public by saying they are only taking away gold-plated health care from bogus refugees,” says Dr. Hasan Sheikh, an Ottawa physician and member of Canadian Doctors for Refugee Care, of the Conservative government. “That is absolutely not true.”
Harper’s reference to “bogus claimants” during the debate is particularly noteworthy—and cringe-worthy, say refugee advocates. It’s a term that’s been used by Harper, as well as Minister of Citizenship and Immigration Chris Alexander, and his predecessor Jason Kenney, many times since 2012, as well as by other Conservative MPs during debates in the House of Commons.

Source: Harper says only bogus refugees are denied health care. He’s wrong.

Ottawa’s treatment of refugees is shocking – André Picard

Hard to disagree with Picard’s assessment:

The IFHP cuts outraged physicians who provide care to immigrants and refugees and non-governmental organizations who sponsor them because they were mean-spirited, bureaucratic and ethically challenging.

They also “saved” very little money; IFHP costs fell to about $65-million. But those savings were illusory because refugees did to not stop having babies, getting sick and suffering from chronic conditions like diabetes, regardless of their country of origin. They just ended up emergency rooms, where no one is turned away and, having no insurance, they were billed, bills they could not pay. Essentially, the costs were shifted from Ottawa to cash-strapped hospitals; in response, a number of provinces offered health coverage to refugee claimants but grudgingly, because it’s Ottawa’s jurisdiction and responsibility, constitutionally.

There was also a lawsuit and, in a landmark ruling this past July, Madam Justice Anne Mactavish ruled, to no one’s surprise, that the cuts were unconstitutional. What was surprising was the court deeming the cuts to be “cruel and unusual punishment” because they were aimed at the most poor and oppressed among us, targeted at “innocent and vulnerable children in a manner that shocks the conscience and outrages our standards of decency.” Judge Mactavish gave the government four months to fully restore the program.

The government’s response to being chastised in this manner was to dig in its heels. Immigration Minister Chris Alexander, once a respected diplomat, hinted the order would be defied. The government went to court and asked for the Nov. 4 deadline to be extended, which a judge rejected out-of-hand.

Then, at the last minute, on the court-imposed deadline, Mr. Alexander announced that the ruling would be appealed and, in the meantime, the program would be restored, but only partially and temporarily.

This is as shocking – if not more so – than the original cuts.

The IFHP should have been fully restored to its pre-2012 form. Period. No ifs, ands or buts.

Since when is a government allowed to partially respect a court order? How is this not contempt of court? The government has every right to appeal a court ruling but it should treat the institution with respect, not crass cynicism.

Ottawa’s treatment of refugees is shocking – The Globe and Mail.

Refugee health-cuts ruling appealed by Ottawa – Politics – CBC News

No surprise on the appeal and request for a stay. Will see how it turns out:

Immigration Minister Chris Alexander also filed a motion to stay the judgment of Judge Anne Mactavish, whose ruling meant refugee applicants would once again have access to Canadian health care while they wait for a decision on their cases in Canada.

The government claims 13 grounds for its appeal, including the argument that the judge made several errors of fact. It also says the judge “applied different standards of reliability to the evidence of the applicants and the respondents.”

In an interview with CBC News, the lead lawyer who won the case said the governments months-long delay in filing the appeal, and the motion for a stay of judgment, means his team will have to scramble to prevent serious health problems among refugees from going untreated.

“If the matter is stayed there will be a delay and so there will be thousands of  persons who should be getting coverage as a result of that order who will be denied that coverage for a longer period of time,” said Lorne Waldman, who represents the group Canadian Doctors for Refugee Care.

Refugee health-cuts ruling appealed by Ottawa – Politics – CBC News.

And Erna Paris in a Globe op-ed on a series of related refugee issues:

We did this because we remembered that a meaner Canada had refused entry to a shipload of desperate Jewish refugees from Nazism 40 years before.

That prewar mean-mindedness is back. Canada’s refugee determination system needed updating, but the Harper government has gone much too far. It has been accused of breaching international law, breaching the Constitution, and – just as important – breaching the values Canadians have defined themselves by.

Canadian mean-mindedness is back