Health-care cuts start to sting

Blue Cross, government tell different stories about coverage for pregnant refugees


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A n expectant mom is feeling the fallout from federal funding cuts to refugee health care that took effect June 28 and the "covert" changes made since, says a Winnipeg doctor.

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Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 27/07/2012 (3961 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

A n expectant mom is feeling the fallout from federal funding cuts to refugee health care that took effect June 28 and the “covert” changes made since, says a Winnipeg doctor.

The woman with complications in the late stages of pregnancy is scared to get prenatal care because she’s a refugee claimant, has been told it’s no longer covered and she can’t afford it, said Dr. Mike Dillon.

“Her support community is concerned it’s going from bad to worse for her,” said Dillon. The woman is from a war-torn country and has a serious underlying health problem that’s not getting treated, he said. She’s had to go to the emergency room once already, he said.

Since cuts to the interim federal health program took effect in June, there have been contradictory statements from officials as to whether prenatal care would be covered. Blue Cross, which administers the program for the federal government, says prenatal care isn’t covered, while Citizenship and Immigration Canada is telling people it is, Dillon said.

“The government can’t sort out, itself, what care is available,” he said. “How can you expect someone who speaks Swahili from Congo to know what’s going on?”

Dillon is part of a national health-care coalition trying to get Citizenship and Immigration Minister Jason Kenney to reverse a cost-cutting move that killed supplemental health-care benefits for refugees in their first year.

Doctors across the country protested, saying cuts would end up costing taxpayers more if refugees’ health problems are left to fester without prescription medication, mobility aids and prenatal, dental and vision care.

Dillon fears the pregnant refugee claimant in Winnipeg might end up being a prime example.

“In the end, I think the system will have to pay a lot for this person’s care.”

On June 28, Citizenship and Immigration Canada backed off its initial plan to cut off all refugees. Government-assisted refugees will receive supplemental benefits but the privately sponsored will not.

Dillon said the program changes weren’t announced — the department just switched information on its website, he said. Citizenship and Immigration denied its policy had changed, and stated government-assisted refugees were never expected to lose supplemental benefits.

But government-assisted refugees in Winnipeg had received official letters of notice from the Canadian government saying prescription-drug benefits are being reduced, and things like “vision care, dental care, (and) devices to assist mobility” will no longer be covered.

“The changes to the interim federal health program have been done in a covert way which has led to significant confusion at every level, from refugees who had received letters in June saying their services were to be discontinued, to clinicians who are unsure which services were going to be covered, to the Blue Cross program itself which administers payments for services based on federal guidelines,” said Dillon.

The government has not sent out any notices to clarify the new changes in policy, said Dillon, who’s worked with refugees for nearly 20 years. He’s worried about the patients he’s not seeing as a result of the confusion. Many may now be eligible for core health services and some have had extended benefits reinstated, he said.

“Most of these newcomers, as well as their care providers, have been left in the dark.”

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