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Manitoba parents ‘helpless’ as toddler lacks public health care coverage

Click to play video: 'Manitoba parents ‘helpless’ as toddler lacks public health care coverage'
Manitoba parents ‘helpless’ as toddler lacks public health care coverage
A young family in Manitoba says it's wrestling through the red tape of the province's health care system hoping to get coverage for their two year old son. Daisy Woelk reports – Jul 4, 2024

A young family of three seem to have reached a dead end in Manitoba’s health care system.

Irene Baek from South Korea, and Pengyu Xi from China, both went to school and worked in the province up until recent years when they went to South Korea to care for Baek’s sick mother.

They stayed there longer than expected due to the pandemic.

In the months before they left Manitoba, they were given permanent residency (PR) cards they had earlier applied for — and found out they were expecting Jaden, who was born in South Korea.

“When we applied for our PR card, we didn’t have Jaden then,” Baek said. So, when they received the cards, “he was also not on the application. So now we’re back with our PR card, but he’s a visitor status.”

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Two-year-old Jaden’s visitor status means he cannot be added as a dependent to his parents’ health coverage.

Baek said that caught her and Xi off-guard, knowing immigrants on work permits can secure public health care for their children.

“I’m just really upset, but I don’t know what I can do. It’s just how the system is. And I wasn’t expecting this, you know? Before I came here, I didn’t really (think) this was a challenge that we had to face,” she said.

Baek says it will be a year and a half before Jaden can become a permanent resident, which she said is a scary thought,

“It just seems hard for us to start a life here now, just knowing that our child didn’t have any health benefits. So it just seems really tough,” she said.

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In the meantime, they have been advised to go through private insurance.

“I just felt really helpless there. And I just felt maybe there’s a better way or anything, but no,” she said.

Tim McIsaac, who housed Baek while she was going through school and thinks of her as a daughter, says the situation puts Baek’s family in a precarious position.

“Obviously, if they don’t have health coverage and care that he needs, it’s going to be, you know, a really big expense for them,” he said. ‘

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“They couldn’t take a big hit financially as a result of him needing health care and not having health coverage…the way that we all do.”

Diwa Marcelino, co-chair of Health Care for All, Manitoba added, “paying for private insurance doesn’t cover, many illnesses. Usually it only covers emergencies. So families have to really reach deep into their pockets for even very simple medical illnesses.”

But, it seems to be the only option for Baek’s young family.

“I guess all we can do is just wait and see if we can go through private insurance, and hope he doesn’t get really sick during that time. And hopefully, maybe, somebody can hear this and  (make) change for people in the future who are facing the same situation as us,” she said.

Marcelino said the family’s situation is not a surprising — but still shocking — scenario for immigrant families.

“I see this time and time again, especially for families who come at separate times where the mother or father will come separately than the other children. The waiting is unacceptable, and the gaps in health care are also unacceptable,” he said.

“Everyone who comes to Manitoba should have public health care.”

A federal spokesperson said it is up to each province to determine the minimum requirements for someone to receive benefits under its health insurance plan.

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Global News reached out to the Manitoba government for comment, but did not hear back by deadline.

“I want Jaden to call this place home too, because we were here for 13 years, right. Them (saying) ‘Your child’s status here is a visitor,’ it makes me feel like they’re distancing him and telling him this place does not belong to him,” Baek said. “That kind of hurts me.”

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