‘There is a social equity issue there’

Jason Kenney talks to the Edmonton Journal about cuts to health care coverage for refugees.

The government said the scaling back of services offered through the Interim Federal Health Program is aimed at levelling the playing field by limiting refugee claimants to the same health-care benefits package that the average Canadian is able to access for free from each province or territory. “I think there is a social equity issue there,” Kenney told the Journal’s editorial board on Monday, adding that cutting off access to extended prescription, dental and vision benefits for the targeted refugees will save $19 million per year. The program cost Canadians $84 million last year and Kenney said it was due to become a $100-million expense soon.

Critics argue that each Canadian would only have to shell out 59 additional cents per year to maintain the benefits, but they miss the point. Kenney said the cuts are aimed at people whose asylum claims have been denied on appeal but have yet to leave the country. “If you’ve lost your asylum claim, don’t expect to stay four or five years getting extended benefits.” However, the cuts will also affect refugees who have been sponsored by religious groups and are in Canada legally. Kenney said it is reasonable to expect the religious groups that are already paying for refugees’ housing and food would also cover the $170 annual cost of extended benefits for the people they bring to Canada.

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