Her Quebec health card mistakenly says she's male. Now she's being denied care

·5 min read
Nicole Elliott says she's hitting a wall when it comes to changing an error on her RAMQ card. She says she's tried to fix the mistake for years to no avail. It's now standing in the way of her getting the health care she needs. (Sharon Yonan-Renold/CBC News - image credit)
Nicole Elliott says she's hitting a wall when it comes to changing an error on her RAMQ card. She says she's tried to fix the mistake for years to no avail. It's now standing in the way of her getting the health care she needs. (Sharon Yonan-Renold/CBC News - image credit)

A Montreal woman says she's at her wit's end after trying more than half a dozen times to get a mistake on her Quebec health insurance card corrected — one she says is blocking her from getting health services she urgently needs.

Nicole Elliott was issued a health card in 2019 incorrectly listing her as male, despite her being born female and identifying as a woman.

"I have no intention to be a man and I've also never been in transition," the 26-year-old said.

Since moving from Toronto to Montreal "for a higher quality of life," almost four years ago, Elliott says she's been put through the bureaucratic ringer trying to get the situation resolved. She says she's also been discriminated against by physicians and nurses in the interim.

"I'm not receiving health care," she said. "People are refusing [me] because I'm a man, when I'm not a man."

Sharon Yonan-Renold/CBC News
Sharon Yonan-Renold/CBC News

Elliott says the error on her health card is now impeding her from getting an ultrasound to get a lump under her arm checked out.

"I need to find out what's happening in my body and they're denying me an ultrasound because my document says that I'm a man but I say that I'm a woman," she said.

Elliott says she's had the lump for more than a year, but no lab will provide her the service.

"I feel absolutely neglected and denied as a human being just trying to seek care," she said.

'Endless process'

Elliott says she applied for a health card from the Régie de l'assurance maladie du Québec (RAMQ) in December 2018, three months after arriving in Montreal but nothing ever came in the mail.

She says she had to apply twice more, and when she finally got her RAMQ card in March 2019, the glaring "M" was disheartening.

As both her birth certificate and passport identify her as female, Elliott didn't expect the process to fix it to become an ordeal.

But she says she's tried upward of six times — both in person and via mail — to get a corrected RAMQ card, but every time she sends in the paperwork, she gets the same letter from the government telling her to reapply. She's even tried to get help at different CLSCs.

"It's just been the same thing over and over again," she lamented.

"I think that the province won't admit that they made a mistake and instead of just fixing it and sending me the card, I am obligated to go through an endless process of trying to do this myself."

CBC Montreal reached out to the Health Ministry for comment, but wasn't provided answers about Elliott's situation.

Sharon Yonan-Renold/CBC News
Sharon Yonan-Renold/CBC News

Not female? No ultrasound

Elliott says she feels extremely frustrated and hopeless that what could potentially be a life-threatening disease under her arm could go undiagnosed due to this error.

"They're not allowed to give [me] an ultrasound. I can't take off my shirt in front of a practitioner in an exam room if my documentation says that I'm a man," she said.

She says ultrasound labs have even told her they could face legal issues or wouldn't be able to provide an accurate reading anyway since they would have to process and examine her as a male.

Since her medicare card differs from the standard woman's, she says labs have told her they couldn't book her in the system if they tried.

"I need an ultrasound and the fact that I can't get one is insane to me."

When reached for comment, a spokesperson for the RAMQ told CBC Montreal that it wasn't authorized to look at Elliott's file or talk about it publicly.

It did, however, offer to reach out to her directly.

By Friday, Elliott had the news she had been hoping for. The RAMQ had called her and told her they would accept her documents and provide her with a new, corrected medicare card in 10 days.

'You don't have a uterus. You're a man' 

Elliott says the card error was the cause of much discrimination in the health-care system.

She first experienced an issue when she went to get her first COVID-19 vaccine dose last year. She says the pharmacist took her aside publicly and asked her if she was taking any hormones or other medication that would interfere with her vaccine.

"I had never heard of that happening to any of my transgender friends … so that [caught] me off guard and really kind of set the tone for the rest of my experiences with the health industry."

She points to another incident where a doctor refused to examine the lump under her arm after she mentioned having painful menstruations.

"[The doctor] asked me whether I was feeling OK in my head … because 'you don't have a uterus. You're a man,'" Elliott recalled the doctor saying.

When Elliott tried to explain the situation, she says the doctor excused herself from the room and when she came back, said, "I don't feel comfortable treating you today."

Sharon Yonan-Renold/CBC News
Sharon Yonan-Renold/CBC News

Elliott says she was then escorted out of the hospital after she became emotional and banged on the doctor's door, demanding to be seen.

"Just the fact that I'm not trusted, I'm not being listened to and I'm not being cared for demonstrates how women are treated across all sorts of industries, specifically in the health-care industry in North America at the moment."

She says she can only imagine how "difficult, frustrating and isolating" the health-care system must be for someone who is transgender, who is actually trying to claim a gender identity that belongs to them or that they'd like to belong to them.

"I don't even identify as what I'm being discriminated against," she said.

"I can't imagine the level of discrimination that people do not deserve when trying to go through this process."