Commentary | Poorly researched and impulsive

Asking questions about refugee health cuts

The federal government recently dealt a blow to refugee health by cutting the budget of the Interim Federal Health Program (IFHP), a program which previously provided healthcare coverage to resettled refugees. At the same time, the federal government also cut supplementary services to asylum-seekers. In December, it released a new list of countries that are classified as too safe to produce genuine refugees. Asylum-seekers from these nations will be categorically refused any healthcare from the IFHP.

According to the Minister of Citizenship, Immigration and Multiculturalism, Jason Kenney, the cuts are necessary because Canadians should not be expected to “pay for benefits for protected persons and refugee claimants that are more generous than what they are entitled to themselves.”

In response there has been an outcry among health professionals across the country, who claim the IFHP cuts are unfair and ineffective because they force interim refugees to seek healthcare only in extreme medical emergencies. By that time, not only is the patient’s life in much greater danger, but treatment is also much more costly and the bill is footed by the provincial government. The new legislation is also surrounded by misinformation: people are being turned away from hospitals and doctors’ offices even in cases when they still have some federal coverage.

The point of concern isn’t simply that our policy is neglecting the needy. Someone has to pay for federal programs and we can argue endlessly about when it is time to draw the line between generosity and self-preservation. But one cause for worry is that these cuts are bad healthcare policy for Canadians. They do little more than serve as a symbol of austerity and provide a feeling that something is getting done. What is actually getting done, however, is largely unclear. If cost savings were the goal, then the increased load on provincial governments make it unlikely that this move will succeed in saving much money.

As a medical student, it is discouraging to find the federal government making a poorly researched move when people’s lives are at stake. In the past, Canada’s health coverage was an example for others. It seems that the future of healthcare will lie in models based on preventative and inclusive medicine. Whatever the solution is, it should be based on expected health outcomes, not reactive impulses to tighten the federal belt. The billions of dollars Western countries waste treating obesity-related illnesses every year may be a lesson in how investing early in health builds the strength of a nation before costs rise.

In order to justify these cuts, Kenney paints a xenophobic picture of asylum-seekers as invasive migrants. In response to this, the Canadian Federation of Medical Students has attempted to give the refugees a face and a voice by publishing a book detailing the personal stories of 12 newcomers to Canada and their experiences building a new life. More information can be found at CFMS.org.

Rafiya Javed is a Med-1 student. Send comments about this article to rafiya.javed@mail.mcgill.ca.


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