OPINION: End the three-month wait for immigrants to receive health care insurance
BC is one of only two provinces in Canada to still have a policy of requiring new residents to undergo a 3-month waiting period before they become eligible for provincially funded healthcare.
BC is often touted as a world leader for its universal healthcare program, but access to that healthcare is actually far from universal. BC is one of only two provinces in Canada to still have a policy of requiring new residents to undergo a 3-month waiting period before they become eligible for provincially funded healthcare.
As the Beacon has previously reported, advocates and academics say that waiting period, which they call discriminatory, leads to worse health outcomes and stigma for new immigrants. Another Beacon report outlined how the province planned to end an exemption to the waiting period for COVID-related care—after our report, the Ministry of Health opted to extend the exemption.
Now, a group of organizations are calling on the province to end the 3-month waiting period on a permanent basis with an open letter. The letter, sent to the premier by the Centre for Gender and Sexual Health Equity at UBC and several signatories, is included below.
Honourable Premier John Horgan
Shirley Bond, Interim Leader of the Opposition BC. Liberal Party
RE: New research confirms urgent need to repeal BC’s mandatory waiting period for
provincial health insurance, as harmful to immigrants’ health and human rights
Dear Premier Horgan and Ms. Bond,
Recently published research by the Centre for Gender and Sexual Health Equity at the University of British Columbia highlights the ways in which British Columbia’s Commencement of Enrolment policy—which includes a mandatory three-month wait period to receive provincial health insurance (the Medical Services Plan, MSP) for immigrants from outside Canada—is disproportionately harming racialized women and their children. The research, affirming longstanding community
concerns, confirms the urgent need for this policy to be amended or repealed immediately.
Research shows that this health insurance waiting period causes substantial health consequences for immigrants—specifically for infants, children, people of colour and during pregnancy. Providing timely access to care during pregnancy and for infants is critical to avoid negative and potentially devastating outcomes and costs associated with delayed or foregone essential health care for immigrant women and their children. This policy worsens health inequities and ultimately increases health spending, costing more than if coverage were provided to immigrants on arrival. Because of this policy, new residents in BC are often forced to live with increasingly serious health issues or make impossible choices between food and housing, or health care coverage for themselves or their sick children.
Immigrants have faced severe health inequities during the COVID-19 pandemic, amplifying concerns related to gaps in health insurance coverage amongst immigrants. Research shows that immigrant and racialized communities have been disproportionately impacted by COVID-19. Immigrants are over-represented in frontline occupations that have been hard-hit by COVID-19, including food production and health care. Importantly, recent population-based research in BC has shown that immigrants—particularly those holding work permits and other temporary statuses—face much lower access to COVID-19 testing and COVID-related healthcare than Canadian citizens.
British Columbia’s wait period policy violates multiple international human rights conventions and is in stark contrast to Canada’s purported commitment to universally accessible and inclusive health care. In fact, new CGSHE-UBC research shows that immigrant women perceive and experience the policy as deeply xenophobic, making them feel unwelcome and perpetuating mistrust and barriers to accessing needed health care for women. Amidst the global pandemic’s fourth wave
and the spread of new COVID-19 variants, health access for migrant communities disproportionately impacted is all the more urgent. We urgently call on the BC Government and the Medical Services Commission to immediately and permanently repeal the wait period for all residents coming from outside of Canada to ensure access to health for all. Legal and policy groups, unions, and civil liberties organizations from across BC, along with hundreds of individuals call for an immediate end to this costly, discriminatory, unjust and unnecessary policy.
Centre for Gender & Sexual Health Equity, University of British Columbia
Sanctuary Health Vancouver
BC Civil Liberties Association
BC Federation of Labour
BC General Employees Union
BC Health Coalition
BC Poverty Reduction Coalition
Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives – BC
Damayan Society for Migrant Worker’s Education & Resources
Health Sciences Association
Hospital Employees Union
Migrant Workers Centre
Pivot Legal Society
Vancouver & District Labour Council
West Coast LEAF
BC Nurses Union
Living In Community
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