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Doctors keep up fight for refugee medical coverage

  • July 5, 2012

TORONTO - Doctors are extending efforts to regain full medical coverage for all refugees even as the federal government backed down on health insurance cuts to one class of refugees.

"Basically it leaves people sicker and dead," Dr. Katherine Rouleau, a family physician at Toronto's St. Michael's Hospital, told The Catholic Register just three days after cuts to the interim federal health program ceased coverage for medications, many diagnostic tests, prosthetics, vision care and dental care for most refugees. "That is not an option, so the fight will go on pretty fiercely."

Rouleau is one of hundreds of doctors who have protested the cuts under the banner of Canadian Doctors for Refugee Care.

Immigration and Citizenship Canada "clarified" it's policy in regard to government sponsored refugees late on June 30. The apparent reversal — which restored dental, vision care and prosthetics for government-sponsored refugees — was in fact a less ambiguous statement of the government's intention all along, Citizenship and Immigration Minister Jason Kenney told the CBC.

While government-sponsored refugees will be covered, parishes are still on the hook for everything from glasses to artificial limbs for refugees they've sponsored, often at the urging of Citizenship and Immigration. Refugees with no sponsor will have fewer options.

Rouleau calls the issue a matter of life and death.

"We don't prescribe these medications just because we like to give money to the pharmaceutical industry. We prescribe them because there is evidence that they actually keep people well."

Immigration and Citizenship argues that the IFHP was giving illegal immigrants and refugee claimants better medical coverage than most Canadians have under provincial health insurance.

It's too early to say what direct effect the cuts will have on patients, said Rouleau.

"I actually made a big effort before July 1 to see a lot of my IFH patients so I could prescribe medication and get them sorted out for some time until St. Mike's (Hospital) can develop a more coherent policy," said Rouleau. "We won't stop seeing our patients. The primary care attention we will continue. The problem is we can't prescribe medication. Some lab tests and investigations we can't do. But none of us are going to stop seeing patients."

While the government characterizes failed refugee claimants and others as "illegal immigrants," the IFHP cuts will have knock-on effects on innocent bystanders, said Rouleau.

"I think only of the children," she said.

There are short-, medium- and long-term effects for dependent children of people denied basic maintenance medications for everything from diabetes to asthma, said Rouleau.

"That's just criminal. For us to do that to children and to families is like, wow," she said.

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