Press Releases

BC’s three-month wait period for health care violates the spirit of the Canada Health Act

October 13, 2021   |   Press Releases

Exclusion from health coverage harms im/migrant women and families: Study

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: Wednesday, October 13, 2021 British Columbia’s mandatory three-month wait period for health coverage for new residents to the province has a disproportionate and debilitating impact on racialized im/migrant women, according to a new study by researchers at the Centre for Gender and Sexual Health Equity, the University of British Columbia and Simon Fraser University.

The research, published in the peer-reviewed journal BMJ Open, draws on interviews with women who were im/migrants to British Columbia, as well as service providers employed in the health, social or legal sectors with im/migrant women. The findings expose serious inequities in Canada’s health care system that endanger the health and wellbeing of im/migrant women in BC.

“Mandatory wait periods for health coverage add to inequity and stigma, and increase negative health and social outcomes for im/migrant women. Our findings show this results in unmet health care needs, socioeconomic stressors, and negative outcomes in pregnancy and for children’s health,” said Maggie Hamel-Smith Grassby, CGSHE researcher and lead author. “BC’s three-month wait policy shows that we’re lagging behind the rest of Canada by maintaining this xenophobic exclusion that uses resource scarcity to pit residents against non-residents.

One study participant described spending her family’s last few hundred dollars on a doctor’s visit and medication for her sick child, leaving them with nowhere to sleep and little money for food. Another participant 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.”

The research highlights the ways in which gendered racism and exclusionary immigration policy impact Canada’s health system by producing disproportionate harms for im/migrant women, explained Dr. Shira Goldenberg, CGSHE faculty member and Principal Investigator of Evaluating Inequities in Refugee & Immigrant Women’s Sexual Health Access. “The hardships caused by BC’s mandatory wait period are unnecessary and heartbreaking. The women developed mistrust and felt ‘undeserving’ of care. They shouldered the financial burden of unexpected costs, which meant impossible choices between basic survival and health care.”

The study also found that community-based organizations helped im/migrant women mitigate the stress and isolation created by the three-month wait policy. “Community based organizations provided support to fill out paperwork and access services, which helped reduce delays in qualifying for health care,” Hamel- Smith Grassby said. “This support was life-changing for im/migrant women and their families to be able to receive affordable and appropriate care.”

The denial of health coverage on the basis of immigration status results in discriminatory and inhumane gaps in health care for im/migrants, explained Dr. Goldenberg, adding: “That’s why we are calling for the immediate and permanent repeal of BC’s exclusionary wait policy.” Said Hamel-Smith Grassby: “Policy reforms towards full healthcare for all, regardless of immigration status, are urgently needed to affirm the health and human rights of all.”

The research adds to persistent call from migrants, health care workers, community organizations and unions for a permanent end to the wait period. “In their response to COVID-19, the BC government demonstrated that they could end this exclusionary policy with the stroke of a pen, and they also revealed their twisted priorities by rushing to reinstate the wait period during an escalating global pandemic,” said Omar Chu, of Sanctuary Health. “Now that we’re in the thick of the fourth wave, it’s time to eliminate this discriminatory and harmful policy once and for all.”

Click here for CGSHE’s key findings & urgent policy recommendations.

Click here for Sanctuary Health’s briefing note, policy study and letters of support.

Click here to read the peer-reviewed journal article.



UBC Communications Lead at CGSHE | 236.818.7763 |

Click here to access the press release in pdf form.