Newspaper article The Canadian Press

Doctors Group Calls on Ottawa to Rethink Cuts to Refugee Health Program

Newspaper article The Canadian Press

Doctors Group Calls on Ottawa to Rethink Cuts to Refugee Health Program

Article excerpt

Health-care cuts hurting refugees: MDs group

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TORONTO - Pregnant women and their babies are among those experiencing the worst fallout from Ottawa's decision to scale back funding for refugee health care, says a group of doctors protesting changes to the program.

Canadian Doctors for Refugee Care said Thursday that three months after cuts to the Interim Federal Health Program took effect, it is marred by confusion, unnecessary costs and compromised care.

The physicians group has been documenting dozens of patient cases since the changes to the program were announced June 30, including that of a young female refugee claimant left pregnant after being used as a sex slave. The woman, 18 weeks' pregnant, has no IFH coverage for obstetrical care.

"The IFH Program is in disarray and being mismanaged and the health of all refugees is being placed at risk," said Dr. Philip Berger, chief of family and community medicine at St. Michael's Hospital in Toronto.

"It appears to be disproportionately affecting pregnant women and their babies, because there's a time limit by which they need medical care, obviously," Berger said in an interview, explaining that claimants must wait up to six weeks for health coverage after seeking refugee status.

"So we know of independently confirmed cases -- we've spoken to health-care providers directly -- where women are in their very last four weeks of pregnancy and cannot get any care and are advised to just show up at an emergency department when they go into labour."

Six such cases have been seen at one small clinic alone in the last three months, the group said.

"The government is telling some of the most vulnerable members of society they are not eligible for important, possibly life-saving health coverage," said Dr. Meb Rashid, medical director of the Crossroads Clinic at Women's College Hospital in Toronto.

Other cases documented by Canadian Doctors for Refugee Care include:

--A man requiring urgent eye surgery to prevent blindness is refused IFH coverage because he is said to be an "illegal migrant expected to leave the country." His doctor performs the surgery anyway. Ten days later, he receives notification from Citizen and Immigration Canada that he is eligible to apply for permanent residency status.

--A refugee claimant, 36 weeks' pregnant, is told by her obstetrician to bring in $3,000 for her next appointment because the IFH will no longer provide insurance for her pregnancy and delivery. Weeks later, following an investigation, the program admits a mistake as made and the woman will be covered.

The doctors organization wants the federal government to reconsider its changes to the program -- and it's also calling for the Standing Committee on Citizenship and Immigration to thoroughly evaluate the impact of reductions in refugee health coverage. …

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