The Canadian Federal government has backtracked on planned changes to its refugee health policy. This past April, Canadian Immigration Minister Jason Kenney announced reforms to the Interim Federal Health Program, which traditionally provides temporary health benefits to refugees until they qualify for provincial coverage. Movements to rescind the distribution of supplemental medical benefits to these refugees were stimulated by a sense of justice to Canadian resident tax-payers. “We do not want to ask Canadians to pay for benefits for protected persons and refugee claimants that are more generous than what they are entitled to themselves,” Kenney said in a statement.
The original subsidies included basic medical care as well as supplemental benefits such as pharmaceutical, vision and dental care, at a level similar to that provided by provinces to people on social assistance. The cost of the program was estimated at $84 million a year.
Doctors and refugee advocates denounced the introduction of more barriers to health care for what is an already vulnerable population. However recently, Immigration Canada’s website was changed to say that supplemental benefits would not be cut for a large group of refugees. “We’re going to applaud the government for their decision to back down on the cuts to refugee health,” said Doctors for Refugee Health.
As confusing as the changing terminology is, the new web page makes it clear that one thing hasn’t changed: rejected refugee claimants will receive strictly limited benefits, and then only when they have a condition that is considered a threat to public health, such as tuberculosis.