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Council Wants to Strengthen Supports for Medically Uninsured Residents

Those who are ineligible for OHIP often avoid seeking treatment, even for serious illnesses and injuries.

Toronto city council wants to improve health care for medically uninsured residents, especially those who avoid treatment because they lack immigration status in Canada. They can’t do it all directly, but on Thursday night, councillors voted 21-7 to ask the provincial government to strengthen access to basic health care programs for residents ineligible for the Ontario Health Insurance Plan (OHIP).

Many refugees, undocumented residents, people who have lost their identification, and even permanent residents of Canada do not qualify for OHIP benefits. Dr. David McKeown, Toronto’s Medical Officer of Health, says that expanding health care access is both humanitarian and practical. “Early intervention is almost always less costly than dealing with a more advanced illness later in its course,” he told council.

According to a Board of Health report on the medically uninsured [PDF], the most vulnerable of them are undocumented residents, many of whom avoid hospitals for fear of deportation. When these individuals do access emergency medical services, they are routinely billed several times more for services than insured residents. That too needs attention, say some. “The billing system needs an overhaul so that anyone can access health care at a fair price,” maintained Denise Gastaldo, associate professor at the Lawrence S. Bloomberg Faculty of Nursing, after council’s vote. “Today’s decision is a step in the right direction.”


Toronto to Consider Becoming ‘Sanctuary City’ for Undocumented Residents

Also among those who can’t access services: permanent residents, who are eligible for OHIP benefits, but only after a three month waiting period. Council has asked the province to eliminate this gap in service, citing the fact that permanent residents spend years going through the application process before being accepted, and that by the time they arrive here they have already met immigration requirements.

McKeown also attempted to dispel myths about so-called “medical tourists,” who migrate to Ontario simply to receive medical care. “That’s not in fact what happens most of the time,” he said.

A few councillors remained unconvinced, arguing that medical tourists are indeed taking advantage of health care services in Ontario. “You can land at Pearson, and come into Toronto and say ‘I’m here, give me services,’ ” said councillor David Shiner (Ward 24, Willowdale). Councillor Mike Del Grande (Ward 39, Scarborough-Agincourt) said that he’s heard criticism of the proposal from older, “bonafide” immigrants. “Now all of a sudden, there’s a different kind of attitude with new immigration that you meet them at the door and have to provide everything,” Del Grande said.

Councillor John Filion (Ward 23 Willowdale) questioned the sincerity of such arguments. “If [Del Grande] saw an injured child, he wouldn’t say, ‘show me your citizenship,’ ” Filion argued. “It’s very easy to push your no button when it’s a bunch of faceless people you don’t meet.” Filion and others also argued that uninsured people with communicable illnesses threaten public health if they refrain from seeking treatment.

The province already funds services for the medically uninsured, mainly through local community health centres. Yesterday’s recommendations include requests to increase funding for those services. Council has also asked the federal government to restore cuts to critical refugee health care funding, made last summer.

Axelle Janczur, executive director of community health care hub Access Alliance, said that while some health care solutions for the uninsured involve navigating complex immigration circumstances, many are easy to solve. “We need to know who exactly has access, and provide them with better information,” Janczur said. “That part is not really controversial.”


  • tyrannosaurus_rek

    Butbutbut health is a privilege of citizenship! What’s next, we’ll let these smelly foreigners buy food at our stores and drink our city water?

    • critical thinker

      Your comment is totally racialized and ignorant. Those immigrants ARE already buying and contributing to the economy. Without those immigrants many corporations would not be surviving.. who do you think are buying food at grocery stores???? Second health is a human right.. I would love to see you in a country where you are forced to work 12 hours a day 7 days a week with no holidays and minimum wage. YOu are totally spoiled here and if you had access to research or talked to people in the community you would realize what’s really going on.. why doesn’t the government grant non status people permits to work and they can pay into their own health care.. if they had options trust me they would do it.. would you like to pay for your own health care? Why would you say it’s a privilege? because you have access to it? Who gave you the right to have access to it? Unless you are aboriginal you are not a true canadian.. you yourself can be considered an immigrant.. so ya don’t acess our healthcare and don’t drink our water.

      • CaligulaJones

        You know, there is a chance he was being sarcastic, right?

      • tyrannosaurus_rek


  • tomwest

    Temporary foreign workers are entitled to OHIP after three months waiting period (provided they are going to be here for six months or more) – it’s not just permament residents. The three-month waiting period serves no practical purpose.

  • William Paul

    Not to sound to cold BUT, Why are we rewarding people who make a conscience decision to flaunt the rules and stay here illegally? We all have to pay, medical, taxes etc. Why don’t they become citizens? or permeant residents? And if they cannot do this, then they have to go…you cannot just live here illegally. Rules should apply to all of us

  • torontothegreat

    This is the kind of issue that can be really divisive. Council votes 21 – 7 to allow non-citizens to have medical insurance, yet this: for it’s own citizens.