Feds boost funding for refugee health care, but study says barriers remain

Canada’s refugee health program is getting a $283 million boost over the next two years

Asylum seekers line up to enter Olympic Stadium Friday, August 4, 2017 near Montreal, Quebec. A program that covers health costs for refugees and asylum seekers in Canada is getting a funding boost of $283 million over the next two years, thanks to a cash infusion into Canada’s immigration system in Budget 2019. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Paul Chiasson

Canada’s refugee health program is getting a $283 million boost over the next two years.

Immigration officials say the funding increase — contained in last week’s federal budget — is needed because more people are making refugee claims.

“Ensuring that the most vulnerable people in our society have access to basic health care is part of Canada’s valued humanitarian tradition, and helps protect public health for all Canadians,” Immigration Minister Ahmed Hussen said in a statement.

“The investment in Budget 2019 reaffirms our commitment to protecting the dignity of those seeking protection from persecution, and eliminates burdens on provincial health care services.”

READ MORE: Refugee who sheltered Edward Snowden in Hong Kong arrives in Canada

The number of asylum claims in Canada more than doubled over the last two years with 55,000 people making refugee claims in 2018, and 50,000 in 2017. In 2016, there were 23,000 claims.

From 2011 to 2016, the average number of asylum claims being filed in Canada was just over 18,000.

This has led to major backlogs at the arms-length agency that processes refugee claims in Canada. Asylum seekers are waiting up to two years for their claims to be heard.

While they wait, refugee claimants are not eligible for provincial health coverage. They are covered instead by the interim federal health program until their applications for permanent residency are approved. The program also covers certain medical services for refugees before they arrive in Canada.

The program was cut back by the former Conservative government in 2012, but in 2014 the Federal Court ruled those cuts violated Canada’s Charter of Rights and Freedoms. The government filed an appeal, but that appeal was dropped after the Liberals were elected. The program was restored to its pre-2012 form in April 2016.

In the 2019-20 budget introduced March 19, Finance Minister Bill Morneau increased funding to the program by $125 million this year and another $158 million in 2020-21 to “promote better health outcomes for both Canadians and those seeking asylum in Canada.”

However, interviews with refugees and health practitioners conducted as part of an ongoing study of the program suggest gaps remain in health coverage under this program and that there is confusion among health care providers about how it works.

Law professors at the University of Ottawa conducting the study say some refugees are being turned away by health care providers who mistakenly believe they do not qualify for health coverage.

Lead researcher Y.Y. Brandon Chen said some health practitioners aren’t fully aware that previous cuts to the program were reversed and — even if they are — often become frustrated by the red tape involved in getting reimbursed for providing care to refugees.

“There are some service providers who are either unwilling or perhaps are under the mistaken assumption that the IFHP is an unduly complicated program to manoeuvre and they just don’t want to spend the time through that program,” Chen said.

Health care providers must register with the insurance provider contracted by government to administer the program if they want to be reimbursed. Doctors and nurses interviewed for the study described this as a barrier “for busy providers.” One nurse practitioner described the refugee health program as being mired in a “legacy of confusion.”

While there have been significant improvements to refugees’ access to health care after the Liberals restored the program’s funding, the study has found several gaps remain, including access to mental health counselling. Chen did note government has taken steps to address some of these gaps, including extending the ability for refugees to receive mental health counselling from social workers.

Preliminary recommendations call for more education for health practitioners about what services are covered and about the reimbursement process to ensure refugees in Canada are not being refused access to necessary medical services.

Teresa Wright, The Canadian Press

Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

AdvantageHOPE is working with Boston Pizza to find a franchisee for a Hope location. (Facebook/AdvantageHOPE photo)
Boston Pizza eyeing Hope for new location

With over 395 locations Canada-wide, company is looking to expand to Hope

Left to right: Sardis Kiwanis Club President Bruce Oakley with nominator Peter Somers, Sovereign’s Medal recipient Brian Cleaver, nominator Derek Fryer and nominator Peter Brown. (Submitted photo)
Chilliwack’s Brian Cleaver wins Sovereign’s Medal for Volunteers

Cleaver is a long-time member of the Sardis Kiwanis Club and a strong advocate for Special Olympics

New Chilliwack restaurant moving into supposedly haunted Nowell Street location

Many restaurants have come and gone, Twisted Thistle the most recent, at Nowell and Princess Ave

Hope’s first chainsaw carving of John Rambo is removed from in front of district hall, to save the carving from winter weather. (Rambo ‘First Blood’ Tourism/Facebook photo)
Hope’s Rambo carving tucked away for the winter

Not to worry, the $10,000 statue has not been carted away by thieves

Provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry updates the COVID-19 situation, B.C. legislature, Oct. 26, 2020. (B.C. government)
B.C.’s COVID-19 case count jumps by 287, another senior home outbreak

Two more deaths recorded, community outbreak in Okanagan

An untitled Emily Carr painting of Finlayson Point was donated to the Art Gallery of Greater Victoria by brothers Ian and Andrew Burchett. The painting had been in their family for several decades. (Courtesy of the Art Gallery of Greater Victoria)
Never before seen painting by famed B.C. artist Emily Carr gifted to Victoria gallery

Painting among several donated to Art Gallery of Greater Victoria

The B.C. Centre for Disease control is telling people to keep an eye out for the poisonous death cap mushroom, which thrives in fall weather conditions. (Paul Kroeger/BCCDC)
Highly poisonous death cap mushroom discovered in Comox

This marks first discovery on Vancouver Island outside Greater Victoria area

100 Mile Conservation officer Joel Kline gingerly holds an injured but very much alive bald eagle after extracting him from a motorist’s minivan. (Photo submitted)
Rescued bald eagle that came to life in B.C. man’s car had lead poisoning

Bird is on medication and recovering in rehab centre

Janet Austin, lieutenant governor of B.C., was presented with the first poppy of the Royal Canadian Legion’s 2020 Poppy Campaign on Wednesday. (Kendra Crighton/News Staff)
PHOTOS: B.C. Lieutenant Governor receives first poppy to kick off 2020 campaign

Janet Austin ‘honour and a privileged’ to receive the poppy

Join Black Press Media and Do Some Good

Pay it Forward program supports local businesses in their community giving

Stock photo
Pair’s lawsuit dismissed against Fraser Valley soccer association and churches

Judge in Abbotsford calls claims against 14 defendants ‘an abuse of the court’s process’

Premier-elect John Horgan and cabinet ministers are sworn in for the first time at Government House in Victoria, July 18, 2017. (Arnold Lim/Black Press)
Pandemic payments have to wait for B.C. vote count, swearing-in

Small businesses advised to apply even if they don’t qualify

Court of Appeal for British Columbia in Vancouver. (File photo: Tom Zytaruk)
Sex offender who viewed underage girls as slaves has prohibitions cut from 20 to 10 years

Appeal court reviewed the case of Kyler Bryan David Williams, 29

Most Read