A 6-year-old child ends up in the emergency room with meningitis, following days of concern by her parents about her fever and rash. A pregnant woman avoids seeing a health provider until she goes into labour, all the while worrying that she is risking her life and that of her baby. A young man falls off a roof while doing repairs, but bears the pain and waits to seek care until his injured leg becomes infected.
You may be surprised to hear such things could happen in Ontario, in a country that prides itself on its universal health-care system. But unfortunately, these are exactly the kind of scenarios we are worried will reappear, due to the cruel cuts to health care announced by the Ford government last week.
At the start of the pandemic, following years of advocacy by uninsured people and the communities who support them, the Ford government announced a health-care funding program to ensure no one who lives in Ontario would be turned away from health care when they needed it . This program meant that people who found themselves without insurance and those who had lost or expired health cards, often due to homelessness or mental illness, would not be turned away from care. The pandemic provided the catalyst to do the right thing.
Unfortunately, Canada has a history of denying health care to people on the basis of immigration status. In Ontario, this has historically included new immigrants, returning Canadian citizens, temporary foreign workers working part-time or between work contracts, international students who don’t have insurance through schools, and people who are undocumented.
Hospitals and health providers would be faced with the decision to either turn people away, or choose to serve people and absorb the costs. In the end, it costs us all the more to wait for people to develop avoidable complications. It is always better to treat high blood pressure than waiting for someone to have a stroke.
As the pandemic raged on, we saw how the most marginalized among us were the hardest hits. We saw how racialized people, Indigenous people, migrants, people experiencing homelessness, and people living in crowded conditions paid a price. These are the same people who couldn’t work from home because their jobs involved laying bricks for our homes, picking tomatoes for our dinners, checking out our groceries or delivering our packages. Many of these people may have otherwise been unable to access the health care they need.
Our world changed overnight, and many suffered as a result but his policy change — ensuring health-care access for all people living and working in Ontario — offered hope.
Prior to this policy change, people who were uninsured were much more likely to delay seeking health care, showing up to our emergency rooms sicker and more likely to die there or leave untreated as a result. Frontline health-care workers and hospitals breathed a sigh of relief when the government ensured access to care for everyone, allowing us to focus on diagnosing and treating people’s health conditions.
But now that is all at risk again. Overnight, the Ford government has turned its back on marginalized people who are uninsured or have lost health cards, and the communities that take care of them.
The Ford government is playing with people’s lives in cutting a small program with a huge impact. No one should be forced to choose between accessing health care and paying the rent.
Doctors, nurses and hospitals all agreed — the government did the right thing at the start of the pandemic by ensuring no one was denied health care in Ontario. They can do it again by reversing these cruel cuts and making this program permanent.