Refugee health benefits scaled back by Tories

The federal government is scaling back health coverage for refugee claimaints and by June it will stop paying for dentistry, vision care and pharmaceuticals.
Citizenship and Immigration Minister Jason Kenney announced Wednesday that the government is scaling back on the health coverage it offers to refugee claimants. (The Canadian Press)

The federal government is putting an end to paying for certain health-care benefits for refugee claimants, Citizenship and Immigration Minister Jason Kenney announced Wednesday.

"Canadians are a very generous people and Canada has a generous immigration system," Kenney said in a news release. "However, we do not want to ask Canadians to pay for benefits for protected persons and refugee claimants that are more generous than what they are entitled to themselves."

The Interim Federal Health Program (IFHP) gives basic health-care coverage to protected persons, refugee claimants and others who don't qualify for provincial or territorial coverage. The program cost $84 million last year. The program also covers the costs for supplemental health services: medications, dentistry, vision care and mobility devices.

Those services aren't covered for most Canadians through their provincial and territorial health plans, and that's where the government is making the cuts.

Coverage for the supplemental services will end in June and medications and immunizations will only be covered where there is a risk to public health. Services and health products will only be covered if they are of "an urgent or essential nature."

The government says by scaling back the program it will save about $100 million over the next five years.

"With this reform, we are also taking away an incentive from people who may be considering filing an unfounded refugee claim in Canada," Kenney said. "These reforms allow us to protect public health and safety, ensure that tax dollars are spent wisely and defend the integrity of our immigration system all at the same time."  

The announcement was met  with criticism from the opposition parties.

"It's scandalous behaviour," NDP Leader Tom Mulcair said. Depriving refugees of health care coverage shows there "is something very wrong with the values of Conservatives," he said.

Interim Liberal leader Bob Rae accused the government of trying to "whip up hostility to refugees."

"I think the government has to recognize that for all of its rhetoric around this issue, there are people who come to Canada with legitimate claims of being regufees," Rae said.