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Health care cuts to refugees hurt everyone

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On June 17, the Council of Canadians joined with hundreds of health-care professionals, lawyers, and refugee rights activists to protest the government's discriminatory cuts to health care for refugees.

Last year the government announced that it was making changes to the Interim Federal Health program which would take away all refugees' rights to access even basic health-care services unless they posed a public health risk.

The public was rightly outraged by this suggestion and took to the streets in massive rallies across the country. Some incredibly inspiring and exciting actions took place when Doctors began interrupting conservative MPs at public events demanding that they answer questions and reinstate health care to refugees.

After such massive public outcry the government announced it would rescind some of their policy changes and government sponsored refugees would receive physician care. However, refugees from countries deemed "safe" by our government do not receive primary physician care, medical assistance during childbirth, medically necessary medication, vision care, dental care, mental health care, and so on. This has left refugees completely vulnerable. Many refugees enter this country after fleeing torture, terror and extreme violence. They only have with them the clothes they are wearing. They cannot afford expensive medical treatment.

Canadians have shown that they do not agree with this policy. Canadian Doctors for Refugee Care ran their campaign with the slogan "not the Canada I know," which accurately reflects how many Canadians feel about denying refugees health care services. People come to our shores and cities to seek a safe haven, a refuge from what they have experienced. Canadians believe we should look after these people.

If we do not offer primary and preventative care, people will wait to seek treatment until they are forced to use emergency rooms. This is the most expensive way to treat people. Cutting health-care services to refugees is not a financially sound policy.

Investing in people who come to our country makes economic sense. Providing people with the care and treatment they need so that they can contribute to our communities makes economic sense. But we know this already. We provide people on social assistance with a full breadth of health services. We should provide those same services not just to refugees, but to all residents of Canada.

The federal conservative government calls medically necessary services like mental health care "gold-plated services." A gold plate sounds like a luxury to me. Being mentally healthy, being able to see properly, having your teeth examined, having prenatal care, taking your prescription medicine, getting acute and follow care for medical emergencies like a heart attack, that sounds like a right.

The Canadian Doctors for Refugee Care posted this information on their website: "Since June 30, 2012 CDRC has independently verified over 50 cases of claimants being denied services including for example an epidural for a woman in labour, an ultrasound for a woman with fibroids and heavy vaginal bleeding and chemotherapy for cancer patients. Denial of services will cost more by allowing treatable conditions to progress, leads to more and preventable emergency department visits and places doctors in the position of having to treat patients  on the basis of their legal status and country of birth, rather than medical  need." I can't believe this is the Canada that I know!

My message to Stephen Harper and the Conservative Party of Canada is straightforward: if you won't make the necessary changes to the IFH program, I look forward to the day in 2015 when you're on my doorstep asking for my vote.

If you want to see these discriminatory policies changed, call, email or, write PM Harper and Immigration Minister Jason Kenney and tell them what you think about denying health care to refugees:

Photo: Caelie_Frampton/Flickr

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