OTTAWA — "We have fully restored the interim federal health program for our Syrian refugees who will soon be on their way to Canada. Both the basic benefits and the supplementary benefits will be available to all of them." — Immigration Minister John McCallum, Dec. 9. 2015.
The interim federal health program was designed to provide limited and temporary health-care coverage to people not eligible for provincial programs, most notably refugees and refugee claimants.
In 2012, the Conservative government changed the program, carving up how much and what it would pay for based on where refugees were from and how they arrive in Canada.
Immigration Minister John McCallum speaks at a press conference in Ottawa. (Photo: Fred Chartrand/CP)
Among other things, the government cut off access to prescription drugs, dental care, vision and additional services such as mental-health providers for certain refugee claimants or refugees.
The cuts were eventually found to violate the rights of refugees and refugee claimants. The Federal Court ordered the government to reinstate them. The Conservatives appealed, but in the meantime did restore some of the benefits to be in keeping with the court decision.
During the election, the Liberals promised to restore the program to its pre-2012 state, and are expected to announce they have done so in the immediate future.
But McCallum says benefits have already been restored for the Syrian refugees currently being admitted to Canada as part of the government's promise to resettle 25,000 Syrians by the end of February 2016.
Did the Liberals actually restore something for the Syrians?
Spoiler alert: The Canadian Press Baloney Meter is a dispassionate examination of political statements culminating in a ranking of accuracy on a scale of "no baloney" to "full of baloney" (complete methodology below).
This one earns a rating of "some baloney" — the statement is partly accurate but important details are missing.
There are two streams in the Liberals' Syrian refugee resettlement program: government-assisted refugees and privately-sponsored refugees.
In the 2012 changes, the Conservatives did not cut any benefits for government-assisted refugees. Of the 25,000 Syrians expected in Canada by the end of February, 15,000 are from that category.
So the Liberals did not need to restore any benefits for them.
For the remaining 10,000 who are privately sponsored, the situation is more complex.
Under the 2012 program, privately sponsored refugees who receive financial assistance under the resettlement assistance program did not lose any benefits. This group is usually part of a number of blended sponsorship programs offered by the government where the costs are shared between the private sponsor and the taxpayer.
Some of the refugees coming under the Liberal program would be part of this stream and therefore would have had full access to benefits.
But most won't. Medication, for example, would only be covered if their condition posed a public health risk.
In response to the court decision ordering the Conservatives to re-instate benefits, they made some other changes. Pregnant women and children under the age of 18 were given broader access; many children are part of the Liberals' resettlement program so would have had access to benefits.
The interim program was designed to fill the gap between a refugee's arrival in Canada and the time provincial health care coverage kicks in, as many of the supplemental benefits are covered by provincial plans.
Each province has a different approach to when they'll start covering health-care costs for refugees, some done in response to the Conservative cuts.
For example, Ontario has waived the three-month waiting period for its coverage for protected persons, while in Manitoba, new permanent residents who move there also don't have to wait. All of the Syrian refugees coming as part of the Liberal program are coming as permanent residents.
WHAT THE EXPERTS SAY
The 2012 program also contained an exemption: refugees who are "being resettled in Canada as a result of a public policy or humanitarian and compassionate considerations on the minister’s own initiative" received full access to all benefits.
And what the Liberals are doing for the Syrians is part of that, the department says.
"The current interim federal health program includes provisions that allow the minister to extend the coverage available to an individual or group," said Nancy Caron, a spokesperson for the Immigration department.
"In this case, full IFHP benefits, known as 'Type 1' coverage, is being made available to all of the Syrian refugees arriving in Canada as part of this initiative."
There have been widespread issues with the way the Conservatives' program was applied, even for those who still had access to full coverage.
One issue was that it would take time for resettled refugees to be given the certificate proving they had access to the interim program; Syrian refugees are all being given that certificate as part of a package of documents they receive upon arrival — partly in response to those concerns to ensure they get immediate access to care.
Under the existing interim federal health program, at least 15,000 of the Syrian refugees being brought to Canada by the Liberals would have had full access to expanded health care coverage as they are government-sponsored refugees and were exempt from the Conservatives changes.
So, the Liberals did not need to restore anything.
Of the 10,000 privately-sponsored refugees, some would also have automatic access, while others would not. Some would also get immediate access to coverage thanks to the provinces, while others wouldn't.
The decision by the Liberals to provide expanded coverage to the entire 25,000 did not require them to change the existing program. Instead, they used an exemption within it in order to grant the coverage.
For those reasons, McCallum's statement contains some baloney.
The Baloney Meter is a project of The Canadian Press that examines the level of accuracy in statements made by politicians. Each claim is researched and assigned a rating based on the following scale:
No baloney — the statement is completely accurate
A little baloney — the statement is mostly accurate but more information is required
Some baloney — the statement is partly accurate but important details are missing
A lot of baloney — the statement is mostly inaccurate but contains elements of truth
Full of baloney — the statement is completely inaccurate
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