Cuts to refugee health care are a ‘disgrace to Canada’: watchdog

Looming cuts to refugee health benefits are inhumane, unethical and a disgrace to Canada, according to a Medicare watchdog.

Last month, citizenship and immigration minister Jason Kenney explained that Ottawa would no longer foot the bill for prescription drugs, dental care and eye care for citizens of other countries who are in Canada awaiting a refugee hearing.

That was a no-brainer. After all, why should refugee claimants get free benefits that Canadians have to pay for?

But according to the Canadian Health Coalition, the Harper government's cuts go much deeper.

Indeed, as outlined at the Citizenship and Immigration Canada website, as of June 30, most refugee applicants will be denied basic health services unless it's "of an urgent or essential nature" or "to treat a disease that is a risk to public health."

The coalition says that means refugees in Canada will be cut off from preventative or primary care including treatment for chronic diseases such as hypertension, angina, diabetes, high cholesterol, and lung disease.

At a press conference Monday, coalition member and Ottawa Hospital Doctor Mark Tyndall said the changes are short-sighted.

"There is not a health economist in the world who would tell you that restricting primary and preventive care is a cost-saver," he said according to the National Post.

"In fact, waiting until people require urgent care runs contrary to everything we know about sound health economics."

Canadian immigration attorney Michael Niren says the move reflects badly on Canada.

"If Canada is to maintain its reputation as a humanitarian nation, depriving refugees of health care pending their claims, really amounts to a form of misrepresentation," he told Yahoo! Canada News.

"On the one hand, we are saying come to our shores and seek protection. On the other hand, we are saying, but don't get sick because then you are on your own."