Stories of the Uninsured

Luma

Airplane

Luma is a 4 year old little girl who was born in Canada. Her face had become swollen, covered with infection. Her mother took her to the ER and was shocked when she was told both she and her daughter’s OHIP cards were now invalid. She did not have the money requested upfront and was denied care.

Luma was ineligible for OHIP because she and her mother had gone to visit family in a war-torn country in the Middle East for 3 weeks but was barred from returning by armed forces who threatened her life. After more than 212 days, she was finally allowed to return to Canada. All Canadians who leave Canada for more than 212 day have to wait 3 months before their OHIP reactivates.

When we first saw Luma, over half her face was infected. Her one eye was swollen almost shut. The infection had entered her nostrils and pus flowed out. She was eventually treated by volunteer providers on a humanitarian basis. Canadians are being denied care because of the primitive 3-month wait policy and they are suffering as a result.

– Story adapted from the Scarborough Community Volunteer Health Clinic on refugeediaries.ca

J

Bed where patient is waited

J fled Liberia after many of his loved ones were murdered and his safety was threatened. J came to Canada and filed a refugee claim but was denied. He was given a work permit while he appealed his claim. J landed a job as a security guard in Toronto and worked for 6 years, paying his Federal and Provincial and Municipal taxes, and his EI every year, in full, and on time.

J came to the volunteer clinic feeling unwell and was diagnosed with malignant hypertension, a condition where the blood pressure is so high, a stroke or brain hemorrhage is imminent. J was immediately referred to the local ER and was admitted. He was treated and his life was saved. After 4 days, he was discharged and handed a bill for $10,000. J and his wife did not have the funds to cover the bill in one payment, offering to pay over time. They were denied. They had to pay in full or they would be referred to a collections agency.

J watched friends and family murdered in Liberia, and decided to come to Canada for his safety. He paid into OHIP for years, but was denied coverage when he needed it most.

– Story adapted from the Scarborough Community Volunteer Health Clinic on refugeediaries.ca

Aisha

waiting-hospital 

Aisha, aged 18 years, from Grenada was attending college when she experienced another in a series of sickle cell crises and sought medical care at Scarborough’s only CHC. Her condition was beyond primary care. She was referred to the hospital emergency department. At first she refused to go, having experienced previous requests for up-front payment before receiving care. The doctor reassured Aisha that this would not happen. This was an emergency.

At the emergency department Aisha was told she had to pay $350 before they would provide care. She was told her situation was not an emergency. Not having the money, Aisha explained that her sickle cell crisis would soon leave her unconscious. It had before. Emergency department admitting staff told her that if she became unconscious, they would treat her without demanding payment first. Aisha seated herself near the triage station and waited. When she collapsed, she was taken in. After 3 days in hospital she received a bill for more than $5000.

Aisha was a sponsored youth in Canada, sent for by her father and stepmother at age 15. Her parents later separated and left Canada. Her sponsorship lapsed. Aisha was left to fend for herself without health insurance. She managed to get a part-time job, find a room to rent, complete high school, and enter college in Scarborough. Her hospital bill ended her education.

Veronica

pregnant

Veronica, a 39-year-old Nigerian woman, had lived in the Netherlands for 12 years before coming to Ontario as a landed immigrant. She applied for immigration in 2006, and when she learned of her acceptance in 2009, she was in her third trimester of pregnancy with gestational diabetes. She read materials provided to her by immigration, which spoke of Canada’s universal health care system. Aware of the importance of her and her baby’s health, the day after her arrival to the country, she proceeded to the OHIP office where she was informed she would have to wait 3 months before getting access to health insurance. She attempted to find private insurance but was denied owing to a pre-existing condition (pregnancy). Within a week of her arrival in Canada, she went into labour, required a cesarean section, and was left with a bill of $12000, which she is now paying in monthly installments.

Violetta

Pregnant woman holding belly 

“Violetta” is a 28 year old woman who came to Canada on a visitor visa. Shortly after discovering she was pregnant, Violetta’s relationship with her immigration sponsor fell through. Her visitor visa has expired and she is living in Toronto without legal immigration status.

She is in the third trimester of her pregnancy and does not have OHIP coverage. On a previous visit to a volunteer clinic for the uninsured, Violetta was referred to the Positive Pregnancy Programme at St. Michael’s Hospital as her HIV status was inconclusive.

After visiting St. Michael’s, she travelled to the uninsured clinic when it opened in the evening. She has not eaten all day.

Violetta was then referred to a midwifery clinic. However, there was no guarantee that she would be able to secure a midwife this late in her pregnancy. If she cannot secure midwifery care, she will be responsible for the obstetrical and hospitalization costs she will incur before and after the birth of her baby.

After meeting with a nurse who works at the clinic, Violetta decided that it would be better for her to move into a shelter and hold on to the money she has saved for rent. Violetta makes minimum wage as a domestic worker – a job which she will not be able to continue once her baby arrives. She is concerned about how she will contact the shelter as her cell phone has been cut off. She has no money for transportation to get to the shelter.

Violetta is provided with $25 from the clinic’s donation box to buy food and a token to get to the shelter the next day. [Story shared by TPH staff]

Asad

Crowd of people

Asad arrived in Canada as a refugee claimant when he was 19 years old, after spending 4 years in a refugee camp. He speaks very little English. He moved in with relatives and their children.

When Asad immigrated to Canada, he was given a chest x-ray which turned out to be abnormal, and was started on TB treatment. Because there were children in the home and Asad was highly infectious, he was admitted to hospital one month after his arrival in Canada, and was there for over 4 months. Asad’s Interim Federal Health Program (IFHP) insurance expired while he was still in hospital because he missed his appointment with Citizenship and Immigration Canada due to his illness.

After being discharged from the hospital, Asad attended his immigration hearing and his refugee claim was accepted. He was informed that the IFPH would only cover the costs of 10 days of his hospital stay. His total bill owning was approximately $40,000. Asad has since appealed his bill and the IFHP will now cover more of the costs. [Story shared from TPH TB Staff]

When a child needs the ICU

sick-child

Justine got sick and was admitted to SickKids hospital. She was a permanent resident but was in the three month wait period. She got sick just a few days after arriving in Canada and thus her mother did not have time to purchase private insurance. She had suffered a stroke as a complication of having chicken pox. She was in the hospital for two months; part of that time was spent in the Intensive Care Unit. The total bill was almost $100,000. The hospital set up a payment plan. Her mother can only afford to pay $20 per month, thus it will take her 375 years to pay this bill. She will be in debt for her lifetime. Adapted from: Your Money or Your Life, Toronto Documentary, 2012.

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