Cuts to refugee health fail the evidence test

June 16th marks the 3rd National Day of Action on cuts to Refugee Healthcare. In 2012 the Federal government dramatically cut funding to the Interim Federal Health (IFH) program that delivers healthcare services to refugees in Canada. The results of these cuts are now being shown to have significantly harmful effects on the most vulnerable amongst us. Not only is this decision not supported by evidence, it’s not supported by the values that most Canadians hold dear.

The reality is that cuts to refugee healthcare have increased the overall costs of healthcare provision, and have simply shifted the responsibility for paying them from one level of government to another. Worse yet the cuts have attacked the health and safety of the most vulnerable refugees in Canada, in particular children.

The decision to cut funding to the IFH was premised on the cuts saving $100 million over 5 years by reducing abuse of the system. Despite vocal opposition from health care workers from across the country, who have argued from the outset that blanket cuts to IFH would lead to more serious illness and eventually costlier service, the government has not relented. Luckily, Ontario, and four other provinces, have temporarily accepted to carry the costs of healthcare provision on humanitarian grounds.

Research recently released by The Hospital for Sick Children in Toronto highlights that as a result of the cuts to the IFH, admission rates for children have doubled as the severity of illnesses has increased. Dr. Alexander Caudarella, a family doctor and co-author of the study titled “The Cost and Impact of the Interim Federal Health Program Cuts on Child Refugees in Canada” notes that if refugee claimants “don’t have health insurance, they present themselves later to the doctors (and) by then, the kids are sicker.”

Disregarding evidence is no way to build policy, and certainly no way to treat the health of those who seek refuge in Canada. These cuts must be reversed.