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BC government cut health coverage to migrants twice during the pandemic

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I was under the impression that the concept of universal public healthcare meant just that: healthcare is publicly funded and available to everyone living within Canada. Apparently, this isn’t the case in BC.

We all know that our public healthcare system is an unfinished project; we still need to incorporate pharmacare, dental care, mental health, and various disability programs into our system. Healthcare for some Indigenous people within Canada is also lacking.

Still, even administration of basic services such as pregnancy are not built into our system for everyone in British Columbia.

No healthcare coverage for BC newcomers

BC is the only province that still has a 90 day waiting period for those who move to the province, from another country or from elsewhere within Canada. 

This waiting period was removed for the first three months (out of 22 months now) of the pandemic but then reinstated in July 2020. From The Tyee:

When someone moves to B.C., whether from another province or from another country on any type of visa, they are not eligible for basic provincial health coverage for the remainder of the month they arrived, plus two additional calendar months.

B.C. is the only province that has such a wait period without exceptions for newborn babies and pregnancy-related and emergency health care, as is the case in Quebec and Ontario. Other provinces don’t have a waiting period. New Brunswick abolished its waiting period in 2010.

As the pandemic struck in March 2020, B.C. removed its waiting period for three months in response to the pandemic and extended MSP coverage briefly to temporary foreign workers.

When the measures ended in July 2020, Health Minister Adrian Dix defended the waiting period.

“We have a 90-day rule which means people cannot just come here and on the first day get health care, and get that health care at the cost of everyone in B.C.,” he said. “It’s fundamental to the way that we run our public health-care system in B.C.”

Some permitted workers and students excluded 

BC also has a policy that excludes healthcare from people with what is called “maintained status.” Those with maintained status received temporary healthcare coverage similar to the previously mentioned 90-day waiting period. This was also removed in April 2021.

Sanctuary Health explains that “people with Maintained Status are workers and students who have applied for new work or study permits before the expiry of their previous work or study permits and are legally entitled to live and work or study in Canada.”

A coalition of Health, Labour, and Migrant Justice organizations penned an open letter to the province in an attempt to cover the healthcare of workers and students with maintained status. From the Sanctuary Health open letter:

We call on the BC Ministry of Health to fully provide MSP coverage to workers and students with Maintained Status.

[…]

In light of the COVID-19 pandemic, the BC Ministry of Health created Temporary Policies to provide MSP coverage to some migrant workers and students with Maintained Status, if they requested it. However, as of April 30th 2021, the BC government has decided to cut off many workers and students with Maintained Status by excluding people whose initial permit expired prior to December 1, 2020.

[…]

The government has now cut health coverage to migrants twice during the pandemic: in July 2020 and April 2021. This is unacceptable and infuriating. We demand that the government reverse this cut and expand coverage for all so that we can have a truly universal health care system.

Migrants hit the hardest

The temporary suspension and then reintroduction of the 90 day waiting period and the maintained status exclusion resulted in immigrants and migrants, especially women, being hit the hardest, according to a study by Dr Shira M Goldenberg of SFU.

For examples of how these policies can harm immigrants and migrants in BC, consider this quote from the study:

One family spent their last few hundred dollars on a doctor’s visit and medication for their sick child, leaving them with nowhere to sleep and little money for food. One parent could not understand why they ‘had to wait two to three months for the government to give me a document …What was I going to do with my sick son then?’ (Latin American woman, 1.25 years in BC). When another family’s status changed to having a work permit, they enrolled in the public insurance plan, and brought their ill, infant daughter to the hospital. Unfortunately, as coverage was not yet active due to the waiting period, they were charged unanticipated, high out-of-pocket costs for the visit.

Many people affected by these policies also work in front-line essential jobs that we all rely on to live. If Canada’s public healthcare system is to be truly universal, these barriers to healthcare must be removed immediately. 

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