Come on in, Just Don’t Get Sick
From the day Permanent Residents land in Canada, they have nearly all the rights and obligations of Canadian citizens. Aside from the right to vote, a Permanent Resident who landed in Canada yesterday and a native-born Canadian pay the same taxes and in return have the same expectation to services from the government. That is, unless they get sick.
In four Canadian provinces (Ontario, Quebec, British Columbia and New Brunswick), newcomers must wait three months after landing before being eligible for free medical care. This rule does apply to people moving from other provinces in Canada as well, however those Canadians will still be covered under their previous province’s insurance plan. If newcomers do have a medical emergency before the coverage kicks in, the cost can be staggering, as in the case of the $63,000 medical bill presented to the parents of a 7 year old boy, who fell and damaged his kidney at a playground in Montreal. The effect of this delay in medical coverage is to place an unfair burden on immigrants who have the unfortunate luck of getting sick or injured within their first three months in Canada.
For one matter, it’s poor healthcare policy. By putting in place the three month waiting period these provincial governments encourage newcomers to delay seeking medical attention for their problems. This flies in the face of decades of research that shows that earlier treatment is both more effective from a health standpoint and also less costly for the health system. An ounce of prevention, as they say, is worth a pound of cure.
In addition, it’s hard to find a legitimate explanation for the waiting period. Having just taken medical exams as part of the immigration process, it’s not as if there can be concerns about newcomers burdening the provinces’ medical systems with pre-existing conditions. Serious health issues would, in most cases, have kept them out of Canada in the first place. The seeming arbitrariness of the three month mark just illustrates that the policy has little ground to stand on.
More importantly, the policy is discriminatory and fundamentally out of line with Canadian values. Our public healthcare system is a major point of pride for Canadians. In a recent CBC contest former Saskatchewan premier Tommy Douglas was named the “Greatest Canadian” of all time for his work in founding universal healthcare in Canada. The reason Canadians are so proud of the healthcare system is because of the belief that all Canadians-rich or poor, recent or long-time-should be entitled to the same quality healthcare.
Canada depends on immigrants in many ways. Every year thousands of new immigrants come to work in the Canadian healthcare sector, helping to fill huge shortages of personnel that have emerged in recent years, especially in nursing. It is absurd that we could welcome someone to come work in our hospitals, use their tax dollars to maintain those hospital services, and then deny them the same care as other Canadians if they were to fall ill within their first three months. This policy amounts to an embarrassing black mark on an otherwise world-class healthcare system. It is time to fix it.