Health Care A Hidden Cost, Immigrant Families Learn

Health care a hidden cost, immigrant families learn

Three-month delay to receive medicare drives new arrivals into debt, protesters say

The Gazette
Published: Monday, October 15

Plane fare, visa fees, rent and household expenses were all things Bahia Saiah Adda and her husband factored in to the cost of coming to Canada when they left Algeria three months ago – a $63,000 medical bill was not.

The amount is for a 16-day hospital stay for their 7-year-old son Fouad, who fell against a piece of playground equipment in Longueuil and ruptured a kidney a month after arriving in Montreal. He is an example of how Quebec's health insurance law is forcing new immigrants into debt, activists warned.

Organizers from Project Genesis and the Immigrant Workers' Centre met outside Health Minister Philippe Couillard's Union St. office yesterday to urge the Liberal government to rescind a six-year-old ruling that requires newcomers to wait three months before being covered by the provincial health plan.

Four of the activists were planning to spend the night in a tent on the sidewalk so they could hand over more than 200 individually signed letters when the office opened this morning.

The letters, also sent to several hospitals and the Rgie de l'assurance maladie du Qubec, demand that newcomers qualify for coverage as soon as they establish residency, which used to be the case until 2001 when the law changed.

The three-month delay applies to all new arrivals but disproportionately affects immigrants and temporary workers, the activists said, since they make up the bulk of new arrivals and since people moving here from within Canada are initially covered by their old provincial plans. Exemptions exist in the case of pregnancy, assault or infectious diseases.

RAMQ advises new arrivals to take out private insurance to cover the waiting period. For most the cost is prohibitive – about $300 per family member for three months.

“Someone who is starting from zero can't afford extras,” said Hassan Ismaili, who immigrated from Morocco four years ago. “Private insurance is a luxury.”

Ismaili was slapped with a $29,880 hospital bill after his 3-year-old daughter spent eight days in Ste. Justine Hospital because of a stomach abscess that developed a week after the family arrived.