There is growing concern that refugees in Alberta aren't getting the health care they need since the federal government scaled back their entitlements last June.

A physician in Calgary said the reduced coverage under the Interim Federal Health Program is leading to confusion and outright denial of care.


Henok Gebremichael left without treatment even though he had coverage because of confusion caused by changes to the Interim Federal Health Program. (CBC)

"I'm very concerned," said Dr. Annalee Coakley, who runs a refugee health clinic in Calgary.  

Since Ottawa changed health benefits for some refugees and cancelled coverage altogether for others, she is seeing several people per month who have been turned away from hospitals and urgent care centres, she said.

"My greatest fear is that there will be a patient death as a result of these changes to interim health."

When Henok Gebremichael went to a Calgary refugee health clinic a few weeks ago doctors discovered his blood sugars were dangerously high.

"I'm very sick," he told CBC News.

Changes cause confusion

He was sent to an urgent care clinic — armed with a referral letter — but he still didn’t get past the admitting desk, he said.  

He left when he was told he needed to pay upfront to see a doctor because he could not afford it.

"I'm very angry. But I can't do anything. I don't know the system. That's why I can't say anything," Gebremichael said.

Part of the problem is confusion — no one really understands who is covered and who is not, according to Coakley.

She said Gebremichael actually had full coverage and a provincial health care number, but was still improperly denied help.

People needing emergency care receive treatment no matter what their health-care status, said a spokesperson for Alberta Health Services in an email to CBC.

"A refugee presenting for care for a non-emergent service would not be refused care. In the event a service is uninsured in Alberta the patient would be informed that a fee is associated with the service and they can either pay beforehand or get an invoice later. Nobody is refused care — but fees apply in this situation."