B.C.’s Health Care Waiting Period Forces Immigrants to Choose

British Columbia’s three-month wait for provincial health benefits hits racialized immigrant and migrant women the hardest, forcing them to choose between basic health care or food and other necessities, according to a new study.

Without access to timely routine examinations and tests during the waiting period, especially for pregnant parents and newborns, health problems can worsen and have lifelong consequences, researchers have found. researchers from the Center for Gender and Sexual Health Equity at the University of British Columbia.

With clear evidence of the harm done to most poor and racialized migrants by British Columbia’s politics, a coalition of 19 migrant rights, poverty reduction, civil liberties and labor groups calls on the province to repeal the policy permanently.

“We can talk for days about the impacts of policy on health,” said Omar Chu, organizer of Sanctuary Health in the Lower Mainland. “And at the same time, it’s also an emotional impact of people struggling for permanent residency, they don’t qualify for the universal public health care that so many Canadians see as a core value.”

When a person moves to British Columbia, whether they come from another province or another country with any type of visa, they are not eligible for basic provincial health coverage for the rest. month of arrival, plus two additional calendar months.

British Columbia is the only province that has such a waiting period without exception for newborns and pregnancy-related and emergency health care, as is the case in Quebec and Ontario. The other provinces do not have a waiting period. New Brunswick abolished its waiting period in 2010.

When the pandemic struck in March 2020, British Columbia lifted its three-month waiting period in response to the pandemic and briefly extended MSP coverage 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 that means people can’t just come here and get health care on the first day, and get that health care at everyone’s expense in BC,” he said. -he declares. “It’s fundamental to the way we run our public health care system in British Columbia”

The Tyee has contacted the Prime Minister’s Office and the Department of Health for comment.

Chu said advocates have sought to end the waiting period for decades, and the pandemic has shown how urgently change is needed.

“With the cases on the rise again, there is no reason we should dissuade people from accessing the health care system,” he said.

In an open letter sent to Prime Minister John Horgan, Opposition Leader Shirley Bond and Dix, Sanctuary Health and 18 other organizations said the policy violated a number of human rights conventions.

“Immigrant women perceive and experience politics as deeply xenophobic, which makes them feel unwelcome and perpetuates mistrust and barriers to accessing necessary health care for women,” the letter read.

Racialized immigrant and migrant workers often have jobs in frontline services, food processing and manufacturing, where they are more likely to contract COVID-19.

The pandemic has also caused delays of several months and years in the processing of visas, work and residence permits. Migrants’ eligibility for the MSP expires whenever their status does.

If a person’s student visa expires before their work permit is granted due to delays related to the pandemic, Chu said, that expiration means they have to wait another three months to be covered.

And many cannot afford or are not eligible for private insurance to fill the gap, as pregnancy and other common health issues are considered pre-existing conditions and are not covered.

The waiting period for health coverage also applies to newborns whose parents are not yet eligible for the MSP.

Study co-author Shira Goldenberg, director of research education at the center and assistant professor of global health at Simon Fraser University, said the lack of care for women and children during the waiting period results in more expensive and invasive care once it is needed. are insured.

“There are healthcare needs that can’t wait, like pregnancy, that put families in an impossible situation,” Goldenberg said in an interview.

“Many women found themselves with bigger problems because of the delay in care. “

While some agencies can help fill gaps in healthcare, the need to find workarounds increases feelings of racism and xenophobia. Many of the 47 women interviewed for the study said they had experienced the health system.

The result is that migrants feel less worthy of care and less likely to seek it when needed in the future, Goldenberg said.

Chu and Goldenberg are hopeful the province will urgently act on the evidence as the fifth wave caused by Omicron gathers momentum in British Columbia.

“The wait times policy does not align with the values ​​most British Columbians believe we stand for as an inclusive and welcoming province, and here we have one of the most xenophobic health care policies in the world. Canada, ”said Goldenberg.

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