A local doctor says he's heartened by a federal critic's call to examine cuts made to refugee health care.
Christian Kraeker, a McMaster University physician who has protested changes to refugee health care, says Kevin Lamoureux's announcement today is “certainly welcome.”
Lamoureux, the Liberal citizenship and immigration critic, held a news conference Tuesday morning calling on the government to reverse cuts to refugee health care.
He said he plans to put forward a motion this fall to study the cuts at a parliamentary committee. He also wants Citizenship and Immigration Minister Jason Kenney to make public all studies done by his department about the cuts.
Kraeker likes the idea of the issue being examined at a parliamentary committee, although “we're certainly hoping things happen quicker than that. We're already seeing things happening.”Liberal MP Kevin Lamoureux listens during Question Period in the House of Commons in June. Lamoureux is calling for a government review of changes to refugee health care. (Sean Kilpatrick/The Canadian Press)
The federal government announced in April that it would strip refugees awaiting adjudication of extended health care coverage as of June 30.
For some, health coverage was restricted to urgent or essential care. Others would not be covered even in urgent situations unless their condition was a risk to public health or security.
The government estimated the move would save $20 million a year for the next five years.
A group called Canadian Doctors for Refugee Care has been vocal this summer about the cuts. In Hamilton, Kraeker and Dr. Tim O'Shea interrupted an announcement by Health Minister Leona Aglukkaq on July 19 to ask her about the changes to refugee health coverage. It was part of a series of protests across Canada.
The problem, O'Shea said last week, is that the issue is now so confusing that local health care providers are simply rejecting all refugee claims. Refugees are also confused and assuming they are not covered.
Kraeker gave an example of a Hamilton boy with epilepsy who couldn't afford his medication, which would have cost less than a dollar a day. He had a seizure and was sent to the emergency room earlier this month.
There is “mass confusion” on the part of health care providers, including insurance companies and pharmacists, O'Shea said.
“In our experience, most people are denied coverage no matter what group they're in because people don't understand who's who or which is which. The bottom line is confusion over the issue.
“Our position remains that we'd like to see the entire change scrapped. In the interim, it would be nice to have clarification and have the government explain how the process evolved.”
The doctors are a small group of “political activists,” said Alexis Pavlich, spokesperson for Jason Kenney, Minister of Citizenship and Immigration.
“Canadians have been clear that they do not want illegal immigrants and bogus refugee claimants receiving gold-plated health care benefits that are better than Canadian taxpayers, including seniors, receive,” he said. “Our government has listened and acted.”
The government has taken steps to ensure that asylum seekers from unsafe countries are covered “on the same level as Canadian taxpayers through their provincial health coverage,” he said.
With files from Canadian Press