Image Caption: Two-year old McKenna Rose, daughter of a non-status Filipina in Alberta, Canada, just received her health card. CONTRIBUTED
By: Jhong de la Cruz
RED DEER, Alberta – Her victory was not just for her daughter’s health and wellbeing, but it was also for other children born to non-status immigrants residing in Alberta.
On May 8, Lynn (not her real name) gleefully announced on Facebook the arrival of her daughter’s health card from the Government of Alberta’s Health Ministry. The card ensures free health coverage for 2-year-old McKenna.
Lynn’s fight for her daughter’s healthcare right was the centerpiece of a campaign that trails back in December, also dubbed “McKenna Law” which called on the province to change its policy for this specific sector.
Province of Alberta Health Minister Sarah Hoffman confirmed that the department introduced a policy in January, 2016 extending health coverage to Canadian-born children of visitors, expired permit holders and denied refugee claimants and migrant workers.
In a letter received by advocacy group Migrante Alberta June 1, the minister stated “Under the federal Citizenship Act, children born in Canada to non-Canadian parents are citizens and are legally entitled to be and remain in Canada.”
Hoffman said the children are entitled to the benefits under the Alberta Health Coverage Insurance Plan (AHCIP) if they are Alberta residents. Her department has a designated a toll free line for parents of these children.
Parents who are non-status immigrants however have to pay out-of-pocket to get health service.
“Individuals without health insurance are not denied emergency medical care in Alberta; however, they must pay for the health services provided. If they have private insurance, they are responsible for seeking reimbursement from their insurers,” Hoffman said.
Member of the Legislative Assembly (MLA) for Edmonton-Ellerslie Rod Loyola, staunch migrant rights advocate, collaborated with Migrante Alberta in May to help some 20 families obtain health insurance for their children.
“In a meeting with this organization at my office a couple of months ago, I personally connected with about 20 such families and children who were sick and needed prompt access to health services. Due to their parents’ non-status, there was much confusion from the parents and those within the health care system and the appropriate coverage for the children under the AHCIP,” Loyola said in an email to INQUIRER.net on June 9.
Loyola also pointed out that fear has been a huge barrier for non-status parents to access the service for their children. “The biggest barrier is addressing the parents’ fear with making their lack of status known,” he said.
The Minister of Health has appointed an officer who is available to these parents, assuring that their identities remain private and confidential.
“Many parents are afraid to come forward and because they are unaware of the recent policy change they often go without. It is important that this recent policy change be shared with the community and for these parents to come forward so together we may assure that their children get the best care possible,” Loyola said.
“Additionally, there are still some in the health care system that are unaware of the change and when asked provide the wrong information to these parents. Our government is doing its very best to propagate this information to all those in and associated to the health care system so that everyone is aware of the change,” he added.
Filipina mother Lynn wondered where the gap in implementation was between the provincial government and its health service providers.
“How come there is a gap between the Ministry of Health and the Alberta Health Services? AHS still not complying with policy,” she said.
This sentiment was shared by Migrante Alberta chair Dhon Mojica. “We are wondering where the breakdown of communication between the government agencies was,” said Mojica.
The group noted that while the changes were made effective January 2016, the province’s main health delivery arm Alberta Health Services (AHS) appeared to be unaware.
The group has asked AHS to pay back non-status parents who had paid for health services for their children.
For non-status parents who would like to obtain AHCIP for their children born in Alberta, contact Alberta Health at 780-427-1432 in Edmonton, or toll free in Alberta dial 310-000 then 780-427-1432.