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Study assesses impact of changes to refugee health program

Research currently underway assesses how changes to a federal government health program resulted in drastically reduced access to health care services for many refugees and impacted their overall health in 2012-14.

As a result of changes to the Interim Federal Health Program (IFHP) 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 was deemed 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 was a risk to public health or public safety.

A Federal Court ruling in July 2014 found the changes unlawful and unconstitutional but the federal government has appealed this ruling, contrary to advice from the Canadian Medical Association (CMA) and several other health organizations.

As a result of the court decision, the federal government has adopted a new, temporary version of the IFHP that reinstates some – but not all – of the benefits available under the program in 2012.

In the interim, two provinces have endeavoured to close the gap with programs of their own. In June 2012, Quebec introduced a program to cover lost federal coverage, and Ontario launched a similar program early in 2014.

Research is being conducted by teams in Montreal and Toronto, with support from an advisory board that includes representatives from the CMA, Canadian Doctors for Refugee Care and provincial governments in Ontario and Quebec. The study is assessing the impact of the 2012 changes on the accessibility of health care services and on utilization of those services for refugee claimants.

In addition, the work will determine financial implications of the changes and the perceptions and practices of health care providers (including physicians) regarding refugee claimants’ access to health care.

The study is funded by the Canadian Institutes of Health Research.

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