New research calls to #EndTheWait for immigrant health access

December 17, 2021   |   News, Blog

On the eve of International Migrants Day, the Centre for Gender & Sexual Health Equity along with community partner Sanctuary Health sent an open letter to the BC government, calling on elected officials to immediately end the costly, dangerous and discriminatory policy that requires new immigrants to BC to wait three months for health insurance.

The letter, signed by 19 unions, advocacy groups and community organizations from across BC and published in the Burnaby Beacon, is based on new research from CGSHE’s IRIS Project that shows the policy disproportionately harms immigrant women and their children, and violates their human rights. According to this research, the health insurance waiting period causes substantial health consequences for immigrants—specifically for infants, children, people of colour and during pregnancy. “Forcing people to wait for health care worsens health inequities and ultimately increases health spending, costing more than if coverage were provided to immigrants on arrival. Not only is it unjust, it doesn’t make any sense,” said Dr. Shira Goldenberg, CGSHE Research Scientist and UBC Affiliate Faculty in Medicine.

New immigrants in BC recount harrowing tales as a result of the wait period policy, often forced to make agonizing choices between food and housing, or health care coverage for themselves or their sick children. One woman described spending her family’s last few hundred dollars on a doctor’s visit and medication for her very ill child, leaving them with nowhere to sleep and little money for food. Another told of hearing her daughter cry out in pain at night. “I would cry with her until the morning. The doctors were refusing to see her. Coming to Canada had become a negative experience for me because I was worried about losing my daughter.”

Omar Chu, of Sanctuary Health, called the mandatory wait period “deeply xenophobic” and an affront to universal health care, noting that BC is only one of two provinces that still has such a policy. “It violates multiple international human rights conventions and is in stark contrast to Canada’s commitment to universally accessible and inclusive health care,” he said. “We urgently call on the Ministry of Health and the Medical Services Commission to immediately and permanently repeal this policy and end the wait for health insurance for all residents coming from outside of Canada.

The open letter follows a petition calling on the government to repeal the policy, which was signed by more than 400 individuals and groups.

Read the open letter here.

Read the media release here.

Sign the petition here.