News / Toronto

Newcomer children most affected by lack of health insurance

Local clinic sounds the alarm on the plight of refugees who can't afford medical treatment without insurance.

Dr. Paul Caulford runs a Scarborough clinic that has seen a surge in number of uninsured children and youth.

File / Torstar News Service Order this photo

Dr. Paul Caulford runs a Scarborough clinic that has seen a surge in number of uninsured children and youth.

A 12-year-old boy from Afghanistan broke his arm while riding a bike bought by neighbours as a welcome gift. A Toronto ER turned him away because he had no OHIP and his mother couldn't afford the $400 needed up front.

A 12-year-old girl from Ethiopia suffering from juvenile diabetes was turned away at a Toronto walk-in clinic because her father couldn't pay $120. Doctors at a volunteer clinic rushed her to hospital, where she spent 10 days receiving treatment. Her family was struck with a $26,000 bill.

A mother and her four children suffered frostbites after being left in the cold outside of Toronto in the middle of the night. They had crossed the U.S.-Canada border after Donald Trump announced hostile immigration policies. Before their refugee claims were accepted, a Toronto walk-in clinic turned them away. They're now stuck with huge hospital bills.

Those are just some examples of local refugee claimants being caught up in the health-care limbo, and a new report from a local volunteer clinic is asking the million-dollar question: When will they be Canadian enough?

"This is, in our view, a national disgrace," said Paul Caulford, medical doctor and co-founder of the Canadian Centre for Refugee and Immigrant Healthcare, a volunteer clinic in Scarborough treating uninsured newcomers.

The centre has been pushing for more health care to newcomers as part of the country's "sanctuary" campaign. In its latest report on the state of children and youth new to Canada, the centre sounds the alarm on the growing problem of medical care being denied to kids just because they don't have health coverage.

Over the past three years, the centre saw a 34 per cent increase in the number of children who visit the clinic looking for medical care, nearly half of whom are under five.

While Canada saw an influx of refugees over the past two years — especially as the country welcomed thousands of Syrians — Caulford said most of the uninsured are recent arrivals from the United States who fear Trump's administration may deport them back to their countries of origin.

Government-assisted refugees as well as those who are privately sponsored get the Interim Federal Healthcare upon arrival, but the majority of refugees in Canada make their claims inland and don't get health insurance until many weeks or months later, he said.

"Are we comfortable that a one-year-old child is denied access to health care? Is that part of our definition now as a country?" he asked.

"When Mr. Trudeau tweeted that Canada welcomes refugees, they heard him. Now that they're here, don't you think we should treat them?"

Highlights from the report:

  • 1,593 visits were recorded at the centre's clinic between 2014 and 2016, marking a 34 per cent increase.
  • 75 per cent of children and youth new to Canada were completely denied access to health care when sick.
  • Nearly one third of all uninsured children were from Africa.

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