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October 8, 2013

Harper brings third world health care to Canada

Reuel S. Amdur

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On September 25, Stephen Harper boldly announced to the UN Panel on Maternal and Child Health that over a period of five years Canada would contribute $203 million to improve conditions of child birth and pregnancy in the developing world. This announcement apparently amounted to a steep discount from the pledge of $3 billion over five years made at the G8 summit in 2010 but with Harper's accounting skills, one is never sure.

In any case, the two announcements appear to commit the Harper government to actions on behalf of maternal and child health.  So what can we make of the headline in the October 2 Toronto Star?  “Women, children most vulnerable to refugee health cuts.” 

This month, the Wellesley Institute produced a report by Steve Barnes entitled “The Real Cost of Cutting the Interim Federal Health Program.” 

The program funds health care for refugees, claimants, and persons not able to be deported because of conditions in their home countries.  Barnes cites cases of women and children who have run into problems in getting needed health care because of the cuts to the program and to confusion in carrying it out. 

The problems relate to changes made by Jason Kenney, then-Minister of Citizenship and Immigration, limiting coverage to various categories of protected persons.  He was concerned that people were coming to Canada just to get free health care, a contention that he had no evidence to substantiate. 

He also complained that these protected persons were getting “gold-plated health care,” better than Canadians are covered for.  In fact, the health care for these newcomers was at a level that welfare recipients receive.  Here are some of Barnes’ examples.

One woman, whose refugee claim was accepted, suffered from asthma.  Because she could not afford the medicine, she had to be hospitalized.

A pregnant refugee claimant with lower abdominal pain went to two different hospital emergency departments, but she left when they asked her to sign a paper saying that she would pay.

Another pregnant claimant was told by her obstetrician that she was no longer covered by the Interim Federal Health Program (IFHP) and should bring $3000 to pay for care.  The IFHP later admitted that she was covered.  They had made a mistake. 

One refugee claimant had been a sex slave and had become pregnant as a result.  She was not eligible for IFHP coverage.

A woman in the third trimester of pregnancy without coverage suffered from pre-eclampsia, a condition marked by high blood pressure and protein in the urine.  Untreated the condition could result in seizures and death.

A pregnant claimant was unable to get prenatal screening because she was waiting for IFHP coverage.

A child with a high fever was awaiting coverage to be activated.  Another could not get a chest x-ray due to administrative delays in getting covered.  The x-ray would have found that she had pneumonia.  Yet another child, with cough, fever, and vomiting, ended up going to a free clinic for care because of confusion around coverage.

These examples show that there is considerable confusion as to eligibility for IFHP coverage.  Changes were made in the eligibility rules sometimes at the last minute, with no advance notice to service providers.  Often the insurer, Blue Cross, is called by physicians to determine if a person is covered.  And as one of our examples shows, even Blue Cross can be confused.  Such confusion could be dangerous, even fatal. 

While the federal government appears unwilling to change their cruel and self-defeating policy (with people who should be treated in the community ending up having to get more expensive hospital care), all of the provinces are calling on Ottawa to change.  In the meantime, Manitoba and Quebec are providing care to those people for whom the Harper government is denying care.  Harper doesn’t care. 

From $3 billion to $203 million over five years for maternal and child care in the developing world, and for maternal and child care for refugees and claimants in Canada, third world levels of care. 

Is this a cause for pride on the part of Stephen Harper and the Conservative government?

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