Refugee Health: The Harper government blinks

The Harper government blinked this week.

Determined to bulldoze through unpopular cuts to the Interim Federal Health Program (IFHP) for refugees, the government partially backed off claiming they were simply “clarifying the wording” on the plan.

The plan provides interim comprehensive health coverage to refugees and asylum seekers until they qualify for provincial and territorial health coverage.

Cuts were due to take place at the end of June, but over the long weekend the wording was changed on the government website, maintaining so-called “supplemental benefits” to United Nations’ refugees the government selects and brings to Canada. The benefits are also being maintained for some privately sponsored refugees.

The government has clearly blinked after weeks of intense public pressure. Ontario Health Minister Deb Matthews wrote to her federal counterpart noting such cuts were effectively downloading costs on to the province.

Doctors for Refugee Health say they’ll continue pushing the government to restore health benefits to all refugees and asylum seekers. Health coverage for refugees and asylum seekers has been available in Canada since the 1950s.

Dr. Meb Rashid, a member of Doctors for Refugee Health, found the federal Immigration Minister Jason Kenney’s sudden claims it was all a misunderstanding to be bizarre. Rashid told the Ottawa Citizen “I wouldn’t let my nine-year-old get away with such deception.”

The Harper government falsely claims that these supplemental benefits are not available to Canadians. There are a variety of extended health benefit programs available to low-income Ontarians and those receiving income assistance. About seven out of 10 Ontarians presently have some form of extended health coverage.

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