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

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

Just Posted

Surrey council chambers. (File photo)
Surrey council endorses ‘public engagement’ strategy

Council approves ‘Public Engagement Strategy and Toolkit,’ and a ‘Big Vision, Bold Moves’ transportation public engagement plan

Surrey City Hall. (File photo)
Surrey council approves $7.3 million contract for street paving projects

City council awarded Lafarge Canada Inc. $7,326,667.95 for 15 road projects in North Surrey and one in South Surrey

Surrey city Councillor Brenda Locke. (File photo)
Locke seeks breakdown on what Surreyites get for taxes paid to Metro Vancouver

Surrey councillor presented motion to council Monday asking city staff to do a cost/benefit analysis

1,001 Steps – along with Christopherson Steps – was closed by the City of Surrey last spring in an attempt to halt the spread of COVID-19. They are set to reopen this week, as a note on a city sign attests (inset). (File photo/Contributed photo)
South Surrey’s beach-access stairs set to reopen

Christopherson Steps, 1,001 Steps have been closed since April 2020 due to COVID-19 pandemic

TEASER PHOTO ONLY
SURREY NOW & THEN: Little Theatre’s 59-year history ends with big plans for move to Langley

A former church, the theatre building/property has sold for close to $900,000

Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau participates in a plenary session at the G7 Summit in Carbis Bay, England on Friday June 11, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld
Canada donating 13M surplus COVID-19 vaccine doses to poor countries

Trudeau says the government will pay for 87 million shots to be distributed to poor countries

Montreal Canadiens goaltender Carey Price (31) is scored on by Vegas Golden Knights defenseman Alec Martinez, not pictured, during the second period in Game 1 of an NHL hockey Stanley Cup semifinal playoff series Monday, June 14, 2021, in Las Vegas. (AP Photo/John Locher)
Habs fall 4-1 to Vegas Golden Knights in Game 1 of NHL semifinal series

Match was Montreal’s first game outside of Canada in 2021

Kelowna-Lake Country MLA Norm Letnick, assistant deputy speaker at the B.C. legislature, presides over committee discussions. The legislature is completing its delayed spring session this week, with most MLAs participating by video conference. (Hansard TV)
B.C.’s daily COVID-19 infections dip below 100 over weekend

Only 68 new cases recorded Monday, four additional deaths

Cannabis bought in British Columbia (Ashley Wadhwani/Black Press Media)
Is it time to start thinking about greener ways to package cannabis?

Packaging suppliers are still figuring eco-friendly and affordable packaging options that fit the mandates of Cannabis Regulations

Robert Nelson, 35, died after being stabbed at a homeless camp in Abbotsford on April 7 of this year.
Mom pleads for information about son’s killing at Abbotsford homeless camp

Robert Nelson, 35, described as ‘man who stood for justice, honour, respect’

The BC Ferries website went down for a short while Monday morning following a provincial announcement that recreational travel between health authorities can resume Tuesday. (Black Press Media file photo)
BC Ferries’ website crashes in wake of provincial reopening announcement

Website back up now, recreational travel between health regions to resume as of Tuesday

The Kamloops Indian Residential School is photographed using a drone in Kamloops, B.C., Monday, June, 14, 2021. The remains of 215 children were discovered buried near the former school earlier this month. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward
Communities grapple with what to do with former residential and day schools

Some tear them down as a tool to help healing, others repurpose them as tools for moving forward

Police arrest the suspect in an attempted armed bank robbery on June 2 at the Scotiabank at Gladwin Road and South Fraser Way in Abbotsford. (Photo by Garry Amyot)
Abbotsford bank robbery suspect who was stopped by customers faces more charges

Neil Simpson now faces total of eight charges, up from the initial two

FILE – Provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry talks about B.C.’s plan to restart the province during a press conference at Legislature in Victoria, Tuesday, May 25, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Chad Hipolito
B.C. watching U.K.’s COVID struggles but don’t think province will see similar pitfalls

Studies show that one dose of vaccine is only 33 per cent effective in preventing B.1.617.2 spread

Most Read