Canada's Immigration Minister Jason Kenney speaks during a news conference in Ottawa June 29, 2012.
Credits: REUTERS/Chris Wattie
Ontario Health Minister Deb Matthews wrote a letter to the feds on Thursday urging the government to reconsider changes, fearing downloaded costs and a "class system" for health care, but Kenney sent a sharp message back at an Ottawa press conference.
"I don't understand why they seem to be more concerned about providing supplementary health benefits, like dental care and eye care, to, for example, rejected asylum claimants, than to their own citizens," Kenney told reporters.
The Tories have recently come under fire for changes to the Interim Federal Health Program (IFHP), which has provided services to roughly 130,000 refugees. This policy change is contained within Bill C-31 - Protecting Canada's Immigration System Act - which just received royal assent.
Starting Saturday, non-government sponsored refugees will lose access to temporary enhanced benefits coverage of vision and dental care, and discretionary medication, while government sponsored refugees who come from camps overseas will see no change to their access.
The feds expect refugee health changes to save taxpayers an estimated $100 million over five years and they suggest provincial governments will benefit from other reforms.
"We estimate it will save provincial governments around $1.6 billion over five years by accelerating the removal of false asylum claimants ... right now, those claimants typically spend several years in Canada," Kenney said.
But some doctors, along with opposition parties, have sounded the alarm about the potential impacts of changes to IFHP and suggest lives could be at risk.
"They try to say refugees were getting better health care than Canadians. We know that is not true. Refugees are some of the most vulnerable when we bring them into our country," said the NDP's immigration critic Jinny Sims. "They were getting very basic care. But under the new changes ... a diabetic is not even going to be able to get that insulin shot. What that could lead to is further complications. In many ways the government's policy is a penny wise and a pound foolish."
Medical professionals have recently crashed various government announcements to protest the changes but the government says it will not reconsider its decision.