Ontario’s 3-month waiting period for medical coverage endangers newcomers

September 12th, 2018

Ontario has been in the news a lot lately, and mostly for the wrong reasons.

Much of it has to do with policies and positions assumed by the province’s new government under Premier Doug Ford, from its absurdist “Buck-a-Beer” initiative to its troubling rhetoric around asylum seekers.

And now there’s the predicament of Ukrainian teen Roman Orlov.

To be fair, the policies in question in the 18 year old’s case predate the Ford government by nearly 25 years, but how it responds will stand as a test of its goodwill toward newcomers to the province.

Roman was diagnosed with an aggressive form of cancer shortly after his arrival in Ontario on a visitor’s visa last fall with his mother, who had recently married a Canadian citizen.

After filing their permanent residence applications in February, Roman’s stepfather applied to Ontario’s public health system (OHIP) on their behalf in June, at which point a mandatory three-month waiting period for medical coverage kicked in.

With cancer spreading through Roman’s abdomen, his stepfather asked to have the waiting period waived but the request was denied, as was an appeal of the original decision. While acknowledging the seriousness of Roman’s case, Ontario’s Health Services Appeal and Review Board concluded that neither it nor OHIP had the authority to waive the waiting period on the basis of compassion or financial hardship.

Lawyer Perry Brodkin told the Toronto Star that Roman’s appeal is one of hundreds that have been refused by the board since 1994, when Ontario introduced the waiting period. This means Ontario is “misleading and deceiving people into believing the Health Services Appeal and Review Board can do something for them,” he said.

To correct this, Brodkin argues Ontario should either give the board to power to grant exemptions, or scrap the deceptive appeal process altogether.

Giving families hope that they might win an appeal is not only cruel, it’s irresponsible and dangerous if it leads them to delay necessary treatment in the hopes of being granted an exemption.

Canada imposes rigorous screening on anyone seeking permanent resident status, including mandatory medical examinations. The likelihood that individuals will hide pre-existing conditions or arrive in Canada to ‘game the system’ is thus very low, and exemptions would be the exception to the rule. In any event, sponsored family members are exempt from Canada’s rules around excessive demand on its health system.

Moreover, as critics of the policy have pointed out, treating conditions belatedly due to the current waiting period may actually be more costly in the long run, as prevention and early treatment of conditions is often far cheaper than dealing with advanced-stage medical issues.

Community members have pitched and raised money to help cover some of Roman’s spiraling medical expenses. It’s now time for Ontario to step up and allow for life-saving exemptions to this deeply flawed rule.

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