Kenney defends cuts to refugee health benefits

Immigration Minister Jason Kenney told Ottawa Morning host Robyn Bresnahan the vast majority of refugees in Canada will continue to receive "comprehensive, first rate" health care, despite cuts to the interim federal health program.

Immigration minister suggests refugees shouldn't receive more care than low-income Canadians

The vast majority of refugees in Canada will continue to receive "comprehensive, first rate" health care, despite cuts to the interim federal health program, according to Immigration Minister Jason Kenney.

Immigration Minister Jason Kenney is defending cuts to refugees' health benefits, suggesting it's only fair to match their health care to what modest-income Canadian citizens are able to access. (Sean Kilpatrick/Canadian Press)

In an interview with host Robyn Bresnahan that aired Wednesday on CBC Radio's Ottawa Morning, Kenney responded to criticism from doctors and refugee advocates who organized a day of action on Monday to protest cuts to the supplementary health benefits refugees receive when they first arrive in Canada.

Kenney disagreed with claims the cuts are unfair to a vulnerable group, pointing out what's being eliminated is not basic care but services that other modest-income Canadians also have to pay for.

"I wonder why these doctors aren't raising the same questions about [the medical benefits] taxpaying Canadians receive," Kenney said, suggesting the government acted out of a sense of fairness, "limiting it to what's generally available to Canadians."

"In the real world there are limited resources," Kenney explained. 

Benefits expire June 30

The benefits that will expire June 30 include prescription drugs, vision and dental care – which many Canadians must pay for out of their own pockets unless they have coverage through a private or public supplementary insurance plan.

The protest on Parliament Hill earlier this week was part of a national campaign to raise awareness of the impact of the cuts.

"The government has used this issue to divide Canadians, pitting those who are dissatisfied with their own health coverage against refugees," Dr. Mark Tyndall, the head of infectious diseases at The Ottawa Hospital, said Monday.

"Canadians are smarter than this. This is an attack on our entire health-care system," Tyndall said.

In Wednesday's interview, Kenney said most of the cost savings will come from eliminating health benefits for failed refugee claimants who are found ineligible to remain in Canada.

The minister added his office has received strong support for the changes, by a ratio of 20 in favour to one opposed.