Ottawa’s cuts to refugee health care almost cost man his eyesight

Andy Radia
Politics Reporter
Canada Politics

Refugee applicant Daniel Garcia Rodriguez almost went blind, thanks to the Harper government's refugee health care cuts.

Rodriguez fell victim to the new rules, which went into effect June 30, which limit some refugees to only 'urgent health care' while others are denied all care unless they have a disease that would be a risk to the public.

According to a report by the Toronto Star,  Rodriquez, whose refugee wife had her application for permanent residence approved in January, started having vision problems last month. He sought the advice of Dr. David Wong, an eye surgeon at St. Michael's Hospital, who identified the problem as a chronic retinal detachment and recommended surgery.

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Repeated pleas by a Dr. Wong, for government funding for Rodriguez, had fallen on deaf ears at Citizenship and Immigration Canada.

On Monday, out of desperation to save the man's deteriorating vision, Wong went ahead with the surgery. The bulk of the $10,000 cost will be absorbed by his own practice and the fiscally-strapped hospital.

"The Conservative government should not play chicken with somebody's vision," Dr. Philip Berger, a spokesperson for Canadian Doctors for Refugee Care, told the Toronto Star.

"It is not a game. It is people's lives. It is hideous and outrageous that the government keeps saying refugees are getting gold-plated health care, better than what Canadians get."

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Similar cases have also popped-up across the country.

Late last month, the Star reported the story of a denied refugee claimant who got stomach cancer after coming to Canada.  Alejandro Gironwith, who was gainfully employed and paying taxes in Canada, was in the process of appealing a denial to his refugee application. Because he was denied, however, the government wouldn't pay for his medical care.

"I can state this no more plainly: we are killing him — you, and I, and the people who represent us in Parliament," reporter Joe Fiorito wrote.

CBC News is now reporting that Gironwith went ahead with the surgery, but isn't sure how he's going to pay for it.

These types of stories probably shouldn't come as a surprise to anyone.  Doctors and refugee advocates warned that the rigid refugee health cuts would come with serious consequences.

It seems now they have the evidence to back it up.