The 3 month wait for OHIP saves nothing.

January, 2014 —   Your money or your life. (amended)

Besides straining the legitimate bounds of Canada’s humanitarian credibility, the 3 month wait for Ontario Health Insurance (OHIP) for landed immigrants and returning Canadians likely saves no one a penny. It certainly can cost many their health, their ability to live a productive life in Canada and contribute.  and it can prove deadly.

He came to Canada at age 3. He had no say in that. His parents arrived as landed immigrants. They were leaving poverty and violence far behind. They came (as others do) to succeed, to raise their child and family in Canada’s stability and safety. After 6 years working and living here, and becoming a Canadian citizens, they returned home. The Great Recession of 2008 dried up jobs. They were not alone.

In 2013, now 16, back in his birth country, he was diagnosed with a rare and deadly genetic disorder. New effective treatments have been discovered. He will die without them. They are not available in his country. They are available in Canada. He is a Canadian citizen.

His disease can progress quickly. His was. It causes advanced neurological deficits – inability to speak, inability to walk, to lift a fork to eat. It damages the liver and other organs.

The boy returned to Canada, to Ontario specifically, with his mother so he would not die. Sadly, he was denied treatment once here. As a returning Canadian away more than 212 days he found himself caught up in the 3 month wait for OHIP. His father stayed behind in Asia. he had a job. It paid the money his wife and son needed for travel and living expenses in Canada.

Our/their phone calls to OHIP officials, and others within the Ministry of Health fell on deaf ears. The life threatening emergency nature of his disease made no impact. There were no avenues for compassionate discretion. There was no accommodation to relax the rules to save his life. All bended knee and passionate requests for humanitarian consideration to obtain treatment and save his life were humiliatingly dismissed.

A 16 year old Canadian youth was dying before our eyes. Only the generosity of volunteer free medical care — most importantly from paediatricians, saved his life.

What do Children and Youth new to Canada know about 3 month waits arbitrarily imposed by adults who govern and ( supposedly protect them? If you or I harmed a youth we would be charged. If we neglect and cause harm to a child, we would be charged. When I was 13 I became ill with a deadly disease. I remember being sick, and very frightened. I trusted the adults in my life. I trusted they would help me. They did.

This youth’s story has one final twist. Some of his treatment had to be administered in hospital (much of it was done as an outpatient, for free, in the community, saving the Government and taxpayers many thousands of dollars). OHIP declined to cover the $18,000 for that hospital stay. That bill cannot be afforded by by mother. It will sit on the public hospital’s financial sheet.

A few will say ( because we have heard it)  ” it’s not my problem. It serves them right. They left Canada. Follow the rules”. To them we say the current costs to OHIP to ensure a 16 year old for 3 months, is $25. That would save a life, and everyone else $18,000. Most will say ( because we have heard it) “ How can this happen to a youth, a Canadian, in Canada? This is an Ontario and a Canada I no longer recognize?” To them we say, we agree.

Incredulity at the humanitarian hypocrisy and insensitivity best describes our visceral reaction. Why are we costing ourselves such unnecessary expense describes our intellectual reaction.

So, solutions….

In January 2014 Ontario rightly took on health coverage for refugee claimants cut off by the Federal government in 2012. Ontario went a step further – and this is where the first steps of solution lie. Although Ontario applied its same 3 month wait to its new coverage for refugee claimants, Ontario added a paradigm policy shift. The 3 month wait for care is waived for refugee claimants who are pregnant, children and youth 18 and under, and anyone else deemed to have a life threatening emergency, the 3 month wait is waived – at the discretion of the treating physician. So, and the question is obvious, why not do the same for returning Canadians, particularly Children and Youth including those New to Canada when they are risk of death from illness or injury while in the 3 month wait?

Canada is country whose very prosperity and freedoms have been built and defended by the new arrivals that define every generation – since the first. Our is no different. We are a nation of new arrivals, a compilation of 500 years of newcomer fusion. We should start acting like it when newcomers to Canada suffer medical emergencies.


The 3 month wait continued.

December, 2013

When they arrived as landed immigrants to Ontario, they came to be with family, to support their family. They lived half a world away. Their daughter, her husband and their grandchildren are in Canada.

Like others new to Canada, their daughter and son-in-law came to Ontario as landed immigrants 20 years ago. Like the majority of New Canadians, these newcomers succeeded. They became Canadian citizens. They furthered their skills and education. They took jobs. They started a family. They contributed and continue to do so.

Some years back, her parents applied to come as landed immigrants. Their children had secured the financial resources to support the application. In November, 2013, the grandparents were granted landed immigrant status.

They made their way to Canada to be their family, their grandchildren. They would help with care of the children so the parents could work.

A week after arriving, one of the grandparents became ill. It turned out to be a cancer. There was a chance to cure it with surgery — a major operation.

But, and here it is again, there was deal breaker in the works. The 3 month wait for OHIP. Unable to afford the surgery, doctors bills and hospital costs, and with no guarantee private insurance would pay the bills, they returned home for care.

Coming to Canada is off. Another protracted application will be required – that can easily consume years.

This unimaginable tragedy is more common than most Canadian realize. In fairness, Ontario has shown leadership by providing healthcare coverage to refugee claimants abandoned by the current Federal Government. For this, our Premier and our Health Minister are to be commended for humanitarian leadership.

It is just one more small step to end the 3 month wait Ontario imposes ( one of only 3 provinces to do so). Let’s do it. Its the right step to take.







3 month wait can be catastrophic.

Uninsured Scarborough Clinic – November 2013

Luma is a 4 year old little girl. She was born in Canada. Her mother immigrated here years back, and is a naturalized Canadian citizen.

Luma has a developmental delay. She is a sweet, active little girl. She loves teasing and interacting, but is non verbal.

Luma was brought in to clinic by her School Principle. She was aware of the free clinic. The Principle was also desperate to help Luma and her mother receive the urgent medical care Luma needed. Luma and her mother had just returned from a war torn country in the Middle East. Her face had become swollen, covered with infection. It had progressed into an intolerable urgent problem.

Her mother had taken her daughter to the ER. She was shocked when she was told both she and her daughter’s OHIP cards were now invalid. She did not have the money requested up front for medical care. She left. Several days later she tried a walk-in clinic. She paid the $75 and was seen for 5 minutes and given a prescription for an antibiotic. Despite this, Luma’s infection worsened.

When we first saw Luma over half her face was infected. Her one eye was swollen almost shut. It had entered her nostrils. Pus flowed out. She was febrile and uncomfortable.

Why did 2 Canadian’s, one a 4 year old mentally delayed child, have invalid OHIP? Why did OHIP reject pleas from the mother, the principle and our clinic to re-instate coverage on medically necessary humanitarian grounds?

All Canadian citizens who leave Canada for more than 212 days are made to wait 3 months upon return for their OHIP to become active. Any payment for illness in this time period is their responsibility.

But Luma and her mom had left Canada for only 3 weeks to visit family overseas. On their journey home they stopped over in another country so Luma could meet, for the first time, her aging and ill grandmother. They planned a short visit.

But the war escalated. Airports closed and flights out stopped – particularly for those with foreign passports. They make better hostages, with more leverage.

When Luma’s mother went to the airport, she was told by armed forces they were not leaving. She went 3 times. On her 4th effort she was told if she returned she and her daughter would be shot dead.

When they finally managed to get out, over 212 days had passed.

When mom, the principle  and our clinic each contacted OHIP, we explained that Luma was out of Canada due to a hostage situation, and not by choice. At first we thought her facial infection was the result of chemical warfare exposure. She was malnourished, as are most children in war zones.

OHIP was unwilling to make any exceptions. Finally, after contacting the Ministry of Health offices, we reached someone “prepared to look into it”. I checked a month after our contact and Luma’s OHIP had yet to be re-instated. All treatment was completed by then and all of it was provided by and covered by volunteer providers on a humanitarian basis.

All’s well that ends well? We hear this all the time. It is an unacceptable response. Lack of health insurance for new Canadians, and Canadian citizens is an unacceptable game of Russian Roulette. How many can volunteers treat, and how far can their care extend when a hospital stay is $2000 per day, and an MRI is $1400?

Luma’s 3 month nightmare is not isolated. Yet it is easily avoidable with less primitive policy. Our next entries will tell you of others.