COVID-19 pandemic highlights need for urgent action to ensure access to health care for the medically uninsured

“Health care is a human right, regardless of immigration status. All levels of government and health institutions need to act now to remove barriers to care for the medically uninsured to ensure appropriate COVID-19 assessment and care is available. This crisis demonstrates why we need a health care system that ensures access for all.” ― Melanie Spence, OHIP for All member and Registered Nurse

Ottawa (18 Mar. 2020) ― The National Union of Public and General Employees (NUPGE) has signed onto an open letter written by OHIP For All. The letter calls on Ontario Premier Doug Ford and Ontario Minister of Health and Long-Term Care Christine Elliot to ensure health care access is available to all.

Read the full text of the letter

Dear Premier Ford and Minister Elliott:

The novel coronavirus COVID-19 is now a pandemic, with the potential to become a public health emergency in Canada. Uninsured individuals in Canada are often denied access to care and can face insurmountable debt. We are deeply concerned about these pre-existing barriers to health care for uninsured individuals in Canada, and the potential public health implications in the context of a pandemic. As a group of health care providers and community members, we call on all levels of government, health institutions, and public health leaders to act now to ensure care for everyone.

The uninsured include newly-landed permanent residents in Ontario, BC and Quebec, some temporary foreign workers, some international students, and undocumented residents. We need COVID-19 assessment centres and related care to be explicitly accessible to all people, regardless of immigration status. Beyond this, we must recognize that people experiencing symptoms associated with COVID-19 will seek care through community clinics and hospitals, and therefore these sites must also be free and accessible to all.

“This is an opportunity to think about why truly universal health care should be at the foundation of our society. Our health is interconnected. If we cannot guarantee health care access to all people, regardless of immigration status, we place our entire society at risk,” emphasized Dr. Arnav Agarwal, a member of OHIP for All.

“Health care is a human right, regardless of immigration status. All levels of government and health institutions need to act now to remove barriers to care for the medically uninsured to ensure appropriate COVID-19 assessment and care is available. This crisis demonstrates why we need a health care system that ensures access for all,” said OHIP for All member and Registered Nurse Melanie Spence.

OHIP For All demands that all levels of government, health institutions, and public health leaders work together to immediately:

  1. Ensure COVID-19 assessment centres have an explicit policy to be free and accessible to all, regardless of immigration status;
  2. Recognize that existing health care pathways such as community clinics and hospitals must be free and accessible to all people, regardless of immigration status, and work to remove barriers such as registration fees and bills, and implement appropriate staff training;
  3. Develop a clear and explicit public messaging campaign to inform people that assessment and care is available to all residents, without charge, at COVID-19 centres and beyond;
  4. Ensure OHIP coverage for all residents of Ontario, including access to care for COVID-19.

Take action

Read the full list of signatories here. Health care workers are encouraged to add their signature to the letter.

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The National Union of Public and General Employees (NUPGE) is one of Canada's largest labour organizations with over 390,000 members. Our mission is to improve the lives of working families and to build a stronger Canada by ensuring our common wealth is used for the common good. — NUPGE