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BC reverses decision to cut off COVID-related care coverage for new BC residents

The BC government has walked back a decision to cut off COVID-related care for new residents of the province who are not eligible for coverage under the Medical Services Plan (MSP), hours after Burnaby Beacon published a report on the topic.

Health Minister Adrian Dix told the BC Legislature Wednesday afternoon that the coverage was being extended until April 30, 2022, upon a question from BC Liberal MLA Trevor Halford that quoted the Beacon’s story.

Dix did not provide a host of details in his response, but said that provincially-funded care for COVID cases for people who don’t have MSP would be extended to next April.

The Ministry of Health did not provide information in an emailed statement on when the decision was made or finalized to extend the coverage—only saying that previous statements had not reflected “decisions in progress.”

It also claimed the minister had “always” intended to continue providing coverage while transmission of COVID remained high—but in earlier statements, when asked directly by the Beacon why it was not planning on extending coverage, gave no indication that it was still in the midst of a decision-making process or review of the policy.

“This extension allows the continued use of the generic PHN for COVID testing and treatment for those individuals in BC who do not qualify for provincial health coverage,” the Ministry said.

“As well as extends the temporary coverage policy for those people waiting for IRCC documents, due to the ongoing backlog and delays at IRCC.”

The policy allowing people who don’t have MSP coverage to receive provincially-funded COVID-related care for suspected or confirmed positive cases was set to expire November 1 and would have limited coverage to a lab test.

New residents of BC are required to undergo a three-month waiting period before they are eligible for MSP coverage, and are encouraged to get private insurance in the interim to avoid paying medical costs out of pocket.

An erosion of trust

Omar Chu, who’s a member of community health coalition Sanctuary Health and had called for the decision to be reversed, told the Beacon that the situation had further eroded his trust in the provincial government.

“I think this was kind of the last in a series of places where we’ve tried to interact in good faith. Personally, I’m still dealing with the shock of learning about what they were trying to do yesterday, and we’re going to need to see some real solid actions to rebuild trust,” he said.

Chu and Sanctuary Health weren’t aware that the policy was set to expire in a matter of days until alerted to the fact by the Beacon on Tuesday morning. The coalition works directly with new residents who would be impacted by the change.

Chu immediately reached out to his contacts within the Ministry for information and an explanation—but as of Wednesday afternoon, still hadn’t received any sort of response.

“I left voicemails, sent emails, and haven’t heard any response … what I’ve seen over the past four years is that the only thing that gets movement or anything is media attention and public shaming,” he said.

“That seems to be the only thing that gets them to reverse policies—and it seems like this government’s goals are not aligned with ours.”

Groups calling for permanent end to waiting period

Sanctuary Health is one of more than 25 organizations calling for the permanent removal of the three-month waiting period for new BC residents.

The Centre for Gender and Sexual Health Equity at UBC, meanwhile, recently published a research paper in medical journal BMJ Open that called the policy xenophobic and has started a petition on the topic.

Chu said while non-insured people will now be able to receive provincially-funded COVID-related care until April, his organization will be working to ensure it’s extended past that too.

“It really seems like the government, when we’re not looking, tries to push us in the opposite direction [away from] inclusion and towards denying healthcare,” he said.

“We expect our governments to do the right thing and provide universal health care, as promised under the Canada Health Act, and that includes all members of society. And there shouldn’t be discrimination based on immigration status.”