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CMA urges feds to reconsider appeal against reinstating refugee benefits

A letter from the Canadian Medical Association (CMA) urging the federal government to reconsider its appeal of the decision to reinstate health care for refugees has prompted a similar response from other medical organizations.

Earlier this month, CMA President Chris Simpson wrote to Citizenship and Immigration Minister Chris Alexander asking him to revisit the federal government’s appeal of the Federal Court ruling released on July 4, 2014 (Canadian Doctors for Refugee Care v AG Canada; 2014 FC 651). That ruling called changes to the Interim Federal Health Program (IFHP) unlawful and unconstitutional.

“It is imperative that health coverage for refugees be reinstated immediately given the significant health implications that have resulted from the 2012 changes to the IFHP,” Simpson wrote.

As a result of the changes implemented in June 2012, all refugees except those who are government-assisted and victims of human trafficking lost access to coverage for medical care unless it is urgent or essential. For some groups, such as refugee claimants from designated countries of origin, even essential medical care was denied — with treatment being provided only if there is a risk to public health or public safety.

“I urge you to consider the overwhelming evidence provided by expert, front-line health care practitioners showing that these changes have had significant deleterious effects on the health of refugees,” he added. “Any delay in reversing the cuts and addressing the health needs of these vulnerable individuals will have significant effects.”

At least nine other health associations have urged the federal government not to appeal the court decision, with many of those letters citing support for the CMA position. The organizations include the College of Family Physicians of Canada, Canadian Psychiatric Association, Canadian Association of Emergency Physicians and the Canadian Federation of Medical Students.

Canadian Doctors for Refugee Care –one of the organizations that successfully challenged the initial government decision – has also condemned the move to appeal the decision.

"It's another sad day for refugees”, said Dr. Philip Berger, founding member of Canadian Doctors for Refugee Care and medical director of the Inner City Health Program at St. Michael’s Hospital, Toronto, in a release. “The Conservative government is recklessly choosing to let vulnerable people, including pregnant women and ill children, suffer rather than accept the very clear and comprehensive decision of the court."

Forward any comments about this article to: cmanews@cma.ca.