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Why I had to interrupt the Minister: Don't cut refugee health care

Posted Jul 08 2012 4:59pm

When Minister Diane Finley spoke in London on Thursday, I stood up and
interrupted her
in the name of my fellow physicians and our refugee
patients who have long been a staple in the practice of Canadian
medicine. Here's why.

The federal government has implemented a series of severe and harmful
health care cuts for refugees. Under these cuts, a refugee having a
heart attack would not be covered for treatment if she belonged to one
of the most affected groups created under the plan. Nor would a
pregnant woman. Nor a child with a broken arm. The list of common
scenarios is only limited by the imagination, and is not speculation.
The federal government has outlined these very scenarios in their
documents, and indicates clearly they will not receive funded care for
the worst affected refugees.

The Minister asked me to "get all of the facts", but I do know what I'm
talking about here. In my daily practice in London's Emergency
departments, I often encounter refugees of all stripes. I am also one
of only a few physicians who works at a special refugee clinic in the
city - already a challenging task without these cuts. As well, I am a
Palestinian who came to Canada as a refugee claimant (the most affected
category in these cuts). My family arrived from Kuwait on a ticket
bought with all of my mother's jewelry and our family car. We lost our
pots on the way, but I had my clothes.

Before the run for our safety, I don't remember my mother comparing
brochures of healthcare in various countries. I do, however, remember
my mother crying, exhausted and terrorized. Those seeking refugee
status do not migrate to take advantage of a healthcare system. They
migrate to flee violence and oppression. They are the most vulnerable
citizens in our society - at least when they first arrive. Once on our
feet, all of the members of my family have become productive members of
Canadian society.

Every medical group of repute has gone on record against these cuts -
rare unity in our fractious community. That includes the College of
Family Physicians of Canada and the Royal College of Physicians and
Surgeons of Canada. Every practising physician in the country is
represented by one of those two colleges. Our nursing, dental, social
work, optometrist, pharmacist, midwifery and occupation therapy
colleagues are also campaigning against the cuts through their
associations and unions.

These cuts do not make sense. The costs of deferred care and debt on
refugee patients will far outweigh the savings. Refugees are not able
to navigate the small print of what is covered and what is not, and
will avoid getting medical care until their condition becomes
impossible to ignore. In addition to violating the cheaper premise of
treating illness early, it leaves the entire Canadian population at
risk. A person with a cough from tuberculosis will simply avoid doctors
as long as possible, becoming more sick and more infectious until being
forced into a long hospital treatment. Similarly, the emotional and
financial cost of an uncared for pregnancy will skyrocket once an
unhealthy baby is born and must be cared for.

Rarely has a governmental plan been more unilateral and obviously
wrong-headed. The government has not engaged the medical community on
this issue, and still refuses to discuss the issue or meet with the
major stakeholders. As a result, the usually docile world of medical
professionals finds itself having to mobilize and be disruptive.

Minister Finley and colleague Ministers, take heed: Our patients and
the Canadian people demand that we interrupt you until you reverse all
of the cuts and allow basic health care for all.

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