Calgary doctors call for reversal of refugee health cuts

Calgary physicians joined their counterparts across Canada to denounce the federal government's cuts to health-care benefits for refugees in Canada.

Federal government eliminated some coverage for many refugee claimants

Canadian doctors protested cuts to refugee health care on a National Day of Action. (Tara Weber/CBC)

Doctors in Calgary joined their counterparts across Canada today in protesting cuts to health care for refugees.

Calgary doctors who treat refugees say the cuts have made refugees wary of seeking medical care. 

Pediatrician Neil Cooper told the story of a five-year-old girl with a broken nose. She and her parents, who are refugee claimants from Mexico, left the hospital without treatment because they could not afford the $300 fee.

"As physicians we put patients first. We wish the federal government would as well," said Cooper.

The federal government changed the Interim Federal Health Program in June 2012, which offers temporary health benefits to refugees.

The government eliminated coverage for things such as dental care and drugs for refugees who have not been in Canada long enough to qualify for provincial health coverage.

Higher cost in the long run, says doctor

In making the changes, Immigration Minister Jason Kenney said the program was overly generous to those who have not established the right to reside in Canada.

He said the program resulted in refugees having access to better supplemental coverage than many Canadians.

Dr. Annalee Coakley, Calgary Refugee Health Program medical director, said the cuts will cost the government more money in the long run.

Coakley said refugees will likely not seek medical treatment until their condition becomes extremely serious.

Today's protests were organized by Canadian Doctors for Refugee Care.

The organization has also launched a legal challenge aimed at reversing the cuts to the federal refugee health program.