Health providers unveil plan to monitor consequences of cuts to refugee health services

TORONTO – Physicians, nurses, community health workers and other medical professionals made a final plea to save health services for refugees from the Interim Federal Health Program (IFHP) on Wednesday.

The Canadian Doctors for Refugee group will also unveil a plan to monitor the health consequences of these cuts, which are scheduled to take effect June 30.

Proposed changes include no longer covering necessary medications like insulin for many refugees living in Canada, and denying some refugees access to physicians unless their condition is considered a threat to public safety, like tuberculosis. Prenatal care for pregnant women, child care and access to mental health would also be stripped for some refugees.

The federal government defends the cuts, saying they will discourage unfounded refugee claims and that it is unfair to ask Canadians to foot the bill for benefits more generous than those they are entitled to.

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Refugees will still receive basic health-coverage, comparable to provincial programs, and medication and immunizations will be provided in cases where there is a risk to public health. The government expects the cuts will save taxpayers $100 million over five years.

But Dr. Mark Tyndall, chief of infectious diseases at Ottawa Hospital says emergency rooms will now have to deal with these things and it will “cost five times that much if we rely on emergency rooms and hospitals.” He adds that disease rates could also increase, since if you’re concerned someone from another continent will spread tuberculosis “the worst thing you can do is isolate them from health care.”

On June 18, demonstrations in 14 cities across Canada were held, with over 2,000 health providers participating. This solidarity prompted Canadian physicians to participate in a program to track the results of the cuts.

“We are not giving up,” said Dr. Philip Berger, Chief of Family and Community Medicine at St. Michael’s Hospital in Toronto in a statement. “If the government will not track the consequences of these changes physicians will. Perhaps when the government sees, quite literally, the devastating and lethal impact of these cuts it will do the right thing and restore basic health coverage to all refugees.”

This network of Canadian physicians will report the details of cases involving poor health outcomes to refugees as a result of the IFHP changes to a centralized data collection system. The group will gather and “report these stories back to Members of Parliament, the media, and the general public on a regular basis,” according to a statement.

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“I urge Minister Kenney to not take away that dream from today’s refugees and tomorrow’s citizens,” said Dr. Parisa Rezaiefar, a refugee who came to Canada and is now a family physician at the Bruyere Academic Family Medicine Centre, a lecturer at the University of Ottawa and emergency room physician at the Children Hospital’s of Eastern Ontario. “The Interim Federal Health Program is not charity; it is an investment in the future of the country.”

With files from Global News reporter Rebecca Lindell