Refugee health care is at the crossfire of a war of words between the federal citizenship and immigration minister and Ontario's health minister.
It began when Chris Alexander scolded Ontario for a recent change in how it treats its refugee claimants under the Ontario Health Act. Ontario introduced a new program, effective Jan. 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 program that administers temporary health-care benefits to refugee claimants.
Alexander called it "scandalous", "irresponsible" and said it invited fraud on Metro Morning on Thursday.
"That is an incentive for people to come here who are not genuinely refugees, not genuinely persecuted. That was happening at a large scale in the past and we don't want it to happen again," he said.
"Why should a bogus refugee claimant get health care — in many cases more than Canadians were getting?"
No coverage after deportation date
Deb Matthews went on Metro Morning on Friday to give the province's side of the argument.
"To say that we are providing coverage to failed claimants is simply wrong. We are providing coverage to people who are in the process of making that refugee claim. Once the deportation date has passed, we are not covering them," she said.
She admitted there is some emergency care that is provided to refugees. But that is only to alleviate the burden on doctors and medical professionals.
'To say that we are providing coverage to failed claimants is simply wrong. We are providing coverage to people who are in the process of making that refugee claim.' - Health Minister Deb Matthews
Refugees still in the process of making a claim will still need emergency care, Matthews said.
"Even the most cold-hearted person would say the right thing for the system is to clean [it] up and have a program to cover the people in that stage of the refugee process," she said. "Almost every other province has done the same."
She also said Alexander was misinformed.
"I object to the word bogus being applied to the people in the process," she began.
'Smells like politics'
'[Refugee claimants] are not getting care better than anyone else," she said, noting that there are only emergency exceptions for pregnant women and children, and everyone else must wait three months for care like all other new arrivals to Ontario.
She said the minister had not "done his homework" and that there was an ulterior motive behind the criticism.
"It sure smells like politics to me," she said.
Late Friday, Alexander shot back at Matthews calling out the provincial government for a "reckless policy."
"The sooner the Ontario government gets serious about protecting Ontario taxpayers and stops undermining the success of our national refugee reforms, the better and fairer it will be for all Canadians, including legal immigrants and genuine refugees," Alexander said in a press release.
The minister noted that claims from democratic countries are down 87 per cent, "saving taxpayers more than $600 million so far in welfare, education and health care costs."