Born in Pakistan, Bushra Khan was six years old when she came to Canada in 1997 with her parents and two older sisters.
Now a first-year medical student at McMaster University with a focus on primary care and a member of the OHIP For All campaign, she joined more than a dozen people to rally outside Hamilton City Hall Tuesday, calling on the province to expand its health care coverage to include every person in Ontario.
“As a society we want to provide good health care and health care that allows everyone to live a good and meaningful life,” said Khan.
The group was joined by members of Hamilton Urban Core Community Health Centre, a charity and community-governed health centre.
Both are advocating for about 200,000 men, women and children living in Ontario without health care coverage due to their immigration status.
This number represents new immigrants, temporary foreign workers and Canadians who have recently returned to the country after long absences. The group wants the province to end the three-month waiting period people have to serve before their coverage is granted or reinstated.
“They are contributing to our economy in other ways and becoming active citizens,” said Khan, adding she feels it is “unacceptable” that citizens who “rightfully live in Canada” must serve the waiting period before being eligible for health care.
The group cited the case of a four-year-old girl born in Canada who travelled with her mother to the Middle East. They were barred from returning to Canada by armed conflict. It was 200 days before they could return safely, according to the statement. While she was away, the girl developed an infection and swelling in her face, and her mother was shocked when physicians in Canada refused to treat her because both of their OHIP cards were listed as “invalid.”
The mother could not afford to pay for treatment out of pocket. The girl was eventually treated by volunteer providers on a humanitarian basis.
This is an issue that Khan said happens all too frequently. She said by providing primary health care to all residents, it has the potential to save the government money in the long term.
“You can prevent so many issues downstream that cost significantly more money if these individuals have to continue to access emergency care,” she said.
Primary health care includes services usually provided by a nurse practitioner or a family physician.
Toronto-based lawyer Perry Brodkin, who was OHIP’s lawyer from 1973 to 1990, said he believes it’s “futile” for anyone to appeal their eligibility for coverage and that the law is stacked against people regardless of their reasons to appeal their case to the Health Services Appeal and Review Board.
“OHIP provides people with an opportunity to appeal to the board knowing that all appeals will be denied by the board with regard to eligibility,” he said.
A statement from the Minister of Health released late Tuesday said it “will take the requests presented under consideration.”
“New Canadians are eligible for some health care services through our Community Health Centres. The interim federal health program also offers immediate health coverage for refugees coming into Canada,” the minister’s statement continued.
Similar rallies were to be held in Toronto, Ottawa, Mississauga, London, Peterborough and Kitchener as part of OHIP For All’s organized day of action.