New Brunswick

Backlog of N.B. medicare card applications causing processing delays

More than 2,500 New Brunswickers are waiting for a medicare card which is causing longer-than-usual wait times for some newcomers. 

Province says backlog caused by record number of immigrants, Canadian moving east

A couple in a car smiling at the camera while their fawn coloured dog, who has one blue eye and one brown, pokes his head between them from the back seat.
Rachelle Doucette and Wes Delmaso moved from Waterford, Ont. to Hampton. She said the affordability of New Brunswick homes is worth the risk of being without health coverage for a while. (Submitted by Rachelle Doucette)

More than 2,500 New Brunswickers are waiting for medicare cards, causing longer-than-usual wait times for some newcomers. 

According to the Department of Health, some applicants have been waiting more than 15 weeks for their information to be processed. Others, including those with expired cards, are experiencing a shorter waiting period of about 11 weeks. 

Spokesperson Michelle Guenard said the backlog is due to a record number of immigrants settling in New Brunswick and a historic wave of Canadians moving east, and many New Brunswickers who hadn't realized their cards were expired until they tried to register for a COVID vaccine on the MyHealthNB website.

As of June 24, a total of 2,583 medicare applications were waiting to be processed according to the Department of Health. (Government of New Brunswick)

However, for immigrants and Canadian citizens moving to, or returning to New Brunswick from outside of Canada, there isn't supposed to be a waiting period. They should be covered the first day they arrive, but Mohamed Bagha, managing director of the Saint John Newcomers Centre, said that's not happening and it's fuelling anxiety. 

"Lately it has been taking much longer than what it usually takes to get a medicare card," he said. "There are a lot of uncertainties and challenges when they don't have their medicare card in time, and the messaging is not very clear [about] what they should do while they are waiting."

Guenard points to the 2.1 million permanent and temporary residency and citizenship applications waiting to be processed by the federal government at Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada, delaying necessary documents needed to apply for medicare. 

Newcomers are either paying out of pocket for health expenses or choosing not to seek the care they need, Bagha said. While most people are eventually reimbursed for any expenses, it's intimidating and not affordable for many immigrants, he said.

People moving to New Brunswick from within Canada have to complete a three-month waiting period before they are eligible for provincial medicare. Most provinces will continue to cover former residents for two to three months after they move. 

Man, wearing a suit and tie, speaking at a podium.
Mohamed Bagha, managing director of the Saint John Newcomers Centre, said medicare delays are causing anxiety to newcomers and new Canadians. (Submitted by Mohamed Bagha)

Rachelle Doucette settled into her new Hampton home on Friday, after moving to the province from Waterford, Ont. She and her boyfriend are fortunate to be healthy and said the risk of not having medicare coverage temporarily is outweighed by the affordability of New Brunswick. 

"We're first-time home buyers and we were actually able to afford a house here that didn't break the bank," said Doucette.

"Trying to find our first home was impossible in Ontario right now."

Doucette plans on applying for medicare as soon as she can. In the meantime, she and her boyfriend are hoping to stay away from the emergency room. 

"All we are doing is hoping for the best, and that's all we really can do," she said. 

As of June 24, a total of 2,583 applications were waiting to be processed, said Guenard. This breaks down into 1,312 new and returning residents from outside of the province, along with New Brunswickers who are replacing expired health cards, she said. There were also 1,271 applications associated with new and returning residents from outside of the country.

Statistics Canada recently estimated New Brunswick's population at 804,855, an increase of 20,700 over the past 18 months.

Problem could get worse in the fall

Bagha would like to see the government work to speed up the process and come up with a plan for waiting immigrants. 

"I think there are lots of challenges in the system and everybody is trying to do their best, but medicare is an essential part of newcomer integration, and we need to ensure that we follow through in getting these cards for newcomers in good time," he said. 

He expects the problem will be amplified in the fall when newcomer children start school. 

"September is going to hit soon, and we will have a lot of kids registering for the school system who will need vaccinations," Bagha said.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Katie Hartai is a reporter based out of Saint John. Her favourite stories to tell involve the environment and mental health. Contact her at katie.hartai@cbc.ca.

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