The Ontario government has announced that it is taking steps to address gaps in health coverage for refugee claimants by introducing the new Ontario Temporary Health Program. Effective Jan 1, 2014, the temporary provincial program will allow refugee claimants to access most primary care and urgent hospital services, as well as medication coverage, regardless of immigration status or country of origin. About 48,900 or 55 per cent of all refugee claimants in Canada live in Ontario, with the majority in Greater Toronto, Hamilton and Ottawa areas. In making the announcement, the province pointed out that the federal government stepped back from its role in providing basic care for many refugee claimants last year by changing the refugee application process in Canada and cutting the Interim Federal Health Program. Since then, more than 30 percent of Ontario’s refugee claimants have been without health coverage beyond public health and public safety coverage.
CMHA Ontario identifies health services as an important social determinant of health. Restricting access to health services marginalizes refugee populations and may cause individuals to be at greater risk for poor mental health and, in some cases, mental health conditions.
While the federal government maintains that the program changes were made to ensure fairness to Canadians and save taxpayers money, critics argue that program cuts incur just as much cost to taxpayers by delaying preventive treatment and deterring the medical expenses to the provinces.
Ontario joins Alberta, Manitoba, Saskatchewan, Nova Scotia and Quebec in stepping in to fill the gaps left by Ottawa, but acknowledges that the temporary program is not a long-term solution.
To read more about the new program and the provincial announcement of Dec. 9, 2013, visit the Government of Ontario website.