While wait times for medical treatments are increasing for many New Brunswickers, some newcomers are struggling to even get a medicare card.
New Brunswick Multicultural Council president Moncef Lakouas says he's hearing about cases where newcomers are waiting up to nine months to get one — and said it's having a snowball effect.
"If they're sick, they can't access work, and if they can't access work, they cannot afford to pay rent and they can't provide for their families, which is very, very dangerous and very serious," he said.
Looking to province
Newcomers moving to New Brunswick from outside Canada are eligible for medicare on Day 1 of their arrival, according to the province, as long as they "meet the eligibility requirements and are deemed … to have established a permanent residence in New Brunswick."
In a statement to CBC News, the province said the medicare team is currently hiring more staff to reduce waits times.
The province said it currently takes about 15 weeks to process an application, but those waiting for a medicare card should not avoid or delay medical care.
"Individuals awaiting a medicare card should know that if they are approved the effective date for the card can be backdated to their arrival in New Brunswick or the effective date of their valid Immigration, Refugee Citizenship Canada status in Canada document, whichever is latest," said Michaela Power, a spokesperson for the Department of Health.
The province said there is a process for those who require immediate medical attention and do not yet have a physical medicare card.
"These cases are identified, and their files are subsequently prioritized for processing," she said.
Lakouas says if the province wants to attract more newcomers, they need to make sure they have access to health care.
He says the system set up for dealing with requests in the past doesn't fit today's need — or numbers.
"What we used to welcome back then in terms of the number of immigrants, which [was] a couple thousand a year, is not the case anymore," said Lakouas.
"We're welcoming more than 6,000 immigrants a year. We have the intention to increase that amount to 8,000 to 10,000 immigrants a year. We need to make sure that they're provided with their medicare and medical attention as soon as possible."
Problems and solutions
Lakouas says there's no financial help for newcomers without a medicare card, so many of them have to pay out of pocket for treatment.
He says this can be difficult for people who just moved to Canada.
"Just getting access to … emergency rooms just for consultation could cost a little fortune for someone who just arrived here, who doesn't need to disperse this money for something that they're supposed to get for free," said Lakouas.
Lakouas says they need a solution.
"It could be a process as simple as just getting access to your social insurance numbers, you get that number right away," said Lakouas.
"When immigrants are coming to the province, they could get that number right away, which allows them to get the medical attention that they need."