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Uninsured patients denied scheduled C-sections unless they pay $6,000, midwife says

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In one day, Ontario midwife Manavi Handa saw three patients who will have to pay thousands of dollars to be able to schedule a C-section beginning on Sunday.

“The hospital would not book her C-section unless she pays $6,000 in advance,” Handa said, referring to one of her patients. “She has five weeks, she doesn’t have that money.”

The patient is a migrant from Central America without citizenship documentation, Handa said, and had her baby been born this week, the procedure would have been covered.

On April 1, the government of Ontario will end a program set up during the pandemic, which allowed uninsured patients to seek medical care. Hospitals and medical staff billed the government directly for their care.

A week ago, health-care professionals found out about the upcoming change, leading to demonstrations outside of Queen’s Park, shutting down the street around the Ministry of Health office in downtown Toronto.

“Ever since I’ve heard this announcement, I have been losing sleep,” said Dr. Shazeen Suleman, a paediatrician whose patients include refugee children and unaccompanied youth living in shelters.

One patient was 17 years old and weighed 35 pounds, she said, and hadn’t seen a doctor in years.

She says she is worried she won’t see some of her patients after Saturday ever again, and the ramifications could be dire.

“Children through no fault of their own are in this circumstance, and we are going to potentially let children die,” she said.

The government has defended its decision as a return to pre-pandemic reality, and maintain that people without insurance will still be able to receive care.

“There's no change in the way that uninsured persons will receive care in the province of Ontario,” Health Minister Sylvia Jones said on Monday.

“We’re going back to where community health-care centres, where emergency rooms, where individuals—who need services, OHIP funded services, and for any number of reasons do not have an OHIP card—have access [through these points of care],” she said.

Yet Handa says, like the rest of the health-care network, these centres are overwhelmed.

Her patients, she continued, are feeling overwhelmed and in some cases terrified.

“All of them, who were planning to have repeat cesarean sections—because that was safest for themselves and their babies—have asked me about birthing at home, alone,” she said.

Potentially putting two lives at risk, for every birth—a high cost to pay compared to a program the Ontario Medical Association says cost $15 million over three years. 

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