Ontario to end program providing health care to uninsured residents
The Ontario government will be ending a program that provides free-of-charge health-care services to uninsured people at the end of the month, something doctors say is extremely concerning for marginalized communities.
In March 2020, as the COVID-19 pandemic was first ramping up, the ministry of health established temporary funding for doctors to provide health-care providers to treat those without coverage under the Ontario Health Insurance Plan (OHIP).
The program allowed anyone to access “medically necessary physician and hospital services.”
In a memo sent to Ontario hospitals and health providers, and provided to CTV News Toronto, the government said this funding would end on March 31.
“Starting April 1, 2023, hospitals should return to pre-pandemic billing practices for uninsured patients,” the memo reads.
“As they did pre-pandemic, uninsured persons will continue to have access to some publicly funded health care services including primary care at one of Ontario’s 75 Community Health Centres, midwifery care, public health, and emergency care. Regardless of an individual’s health card status, Ontario’s public hospitals cannot refuse to provide services to a patient who is faced with a life-threatening medical emergency.”
- Download our app to get local alerts on your device
- Get the latest local updates right to your inbox
In a statement, the Ontario Medical Association (OMA) expressed concern about this decision, saying it will be “detrimental to the livelihood of marginalized Ontarians who often face the greatest barriers in our society.”
“Instead, the government will rely on the goodwill of physicians who often exercise a moral obligation to care for uninsured persons without being compensated,” the OMA, which represents the political, clinical, and economic interests of Ontario physicians, said.
An uninsured person is someone who lacks private or provincial health insurance and most often impacts those without residency status, people waiting for permanent residency, foreign workers between contracts, and international students not covered by their universities or colleges.
Challenges also exist for those who experience homelessness and who may not have access to a health card.
The OMA wants the Ministry of Health to extend the program temporarily until a long-term solution can be developed.
The ministry, for its part, says the funding was put in place as a temporary measure to ensure people had access to medical services when it was difficult to leave the province during travel restrictions.
“With lower rates of COVID-19 and the ending of public health restrictions, the province is winding down its pandemic response measures to focus resources on delivering services Ontarians need the most,” it said in a statement to CTV News Toronto.
Doctors have expressed their apprehension over the changes being made so suddenly, especially considering no further action has been taken to reduce other barriers to health care.
Dr. Michael Warner, an ICU doctor at Toronto’s Michael Garron Hospital, told CTV News Toronto that suddenly ending a program that solved a real equity issue is “cruel.”
“We're not talking about people who can no longer go to Buffalo to get an MRI. We're talking about people who don't have a home,” he said “It was a very good policy that rectified a major inequity that existed before March 25, 2020.”
In order to get a health card in Ontario, an individual needs to physically show up at a Service Ontario centre, provide three forms of identification, and have a home address. The forms, Warner added, are also only in English and French.
“What it means is that if you don't have a health card, you're much less likely to get preventive and primary care because you're not going have an ongoing relationship with a primary care practitioner,” he said.
“When you do get sick, it's going to be a bigger emergency that's going to cost the system more. And those on the margins are the ones who are going to be harmed the most in addition to the physicians who treat those marginalized groups, they're just going to be working for free, and that's not fair either.”
While uninsured individuals are able to seek care at community clinics and hospitals without a health card, long-time street nurse Cathy Crowe says she can’t think of any benefit to ending the program.
“There's literally no logic in the decision apart from it means that money that was going to this will go elsewhere,” she said, adding that this will put more pressures on community health centres and hospitals that will be tasked with providing care. “It's mean-spirited. If the premier and his people think that it's easy to get into a community health center, it's not. There's waiting list to become patients there as well. And emergency rooms, my god the doctors in Toronto ERs anyway, are swamped.”
“The last thing they need is people coming in for an ear infection … they don't need people coming in for ‘I'm out of my medication, can you help me.’”
Crowe added that any barriers to access would especially prevent unhoused individuals from seeking care, regardless of the location.
When the funding became available in 2020, it was a game changer,” Dr. Andrew Boozary with the University Health Network, told CTV News Toronto.
There are about half a million people in Ontario who do not have insurance, Boozary noted.
“Removing that stigma and barrier for people to access care was a crucial part in what we were trying to do to improve health in marginalized communities,” he said.
“I think the lack of engagement or consultation to have or pull back a program like this will have a real ripple effect through people who will have now much more uncertainty about where or when they can bank on goodwill, which seems to be indicating the memo, as opposed to the kind of policies we need to ensure that people can stay and be healthy.”
Boozary said the pandemic also shed light on how people’s socioeconomic conditions impacted not just their health but the care they received.
“To not learn and build policy on these learnings that came at a very high cost of human life and more disease … That's the really challenging part to reconcile right now,” he said.
“If the policy messaging is correct, this does real damage to our notions of universality.”
The news also comes as a deal with Ontario optometrists alters coverage for eye exams under OHIP, reducing the number of exams that are covered for seniors to once every 18 months. Seniors will also no longer receive unlimited minor follow-up assessments and people with cataracts will only be covered if they have “clinically significant decreased vision” or if a surgical referral is made.
Toronto Top Stories
BREAKING | Person pronounced dead following fire at 'very complex' building in west Toronto
CTVNews.ca Top Stories
Hundreds of American firefighters arrive in Canada to help battle wildfires
Hundreds of American firefighters have recently arrived in Canada to help battle wildfires and more are on the way, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said Wednesday.
Can face masks help protect you from wildfire smoke? Health expert explains
An official recommendation to wear a mask to protect yourself from wildfire smoke is being echoed by health experts as plumes of smoke make their way across parts of Canada, causing poor air quality.
Here's how major cities in Canada and the U.S. look blanketed by wildfire smoke
Photos show smoke-filled skies in cities across Canada and the U.S. as air quality warnings were issued in wake of the hundreds of wildfires from Quebec and Ontario.
'Very, very hard to breathe': Experts call wildfires a 'major public health concern' for Canada
As forest fires rage across the country, experts are sounding the alarm over the physical and psychological impacts of the wildfires and saying that they pose a serious public health issue, which individuals and governments need to acknowledge and act upon.
WATCH | Rate hike 'may be the last straw' for some homeowners: mortgage broker
With the latest hike bringing Canada's key interest rates to levels not seen since 2001, one mortgage broker is warning that it may be 'the last straw' for some homeowners with variable mortgages.
Canadians more likely to support foreign interference inquiry than hearings: Nanos
Canadians are twice as likely to support a formal inquiry into foreign interference, as opposed to public hearings, according to new polling from Nanos Research for CTV News.
opinion | Eight takeaways from Prince Harry's seven hours on the witness stand
It's been a busy, tumultuous few days for Prince Harry, the Duke of Sussex as he took his place on the witness stand in his trial against the Mirror Group Newspapers. Here are royal commentator Afua Hagan's top takeaways from his two-day grilling.
Calgary mass killer Matthew de Grood seeks 'absolute discharge'
The man who was found not criminally responsible in the stabbing deaths of five people at a house party in Brentwood more than nine years ago is seeking more freedoms.
Trudeau shows no interest in compromising with Meta, Google over online news bill
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau is showing no interest in compromising with Meta and Google over a Liberal bill that would make them pay for Canadian journalism that helps the companies generate revenue.
Ontario man charged with first-degree murder in killing of Claudia Iacono outside Montreal salon
An Ontario man has been charged with first-degree murder in the death of Claudia Iacono, the daughter-in-law of Mafia associate Moreno Gallo, after she was gunned down at the wheel of her car in Montreal last month.
Woman, 55, dies after vehicle strikes 2 pedestrians in Cote-des-Neiges; second pedestrian seriously injured
A pedestrian has died after she and a fellow pedestrian were both hit by a vehicle Wednesday afternoon in Montreal's Cote-des-Neiges neighbourhood.
More evacuations in Quebec as record-breaking fires continue to burn
Quebec's wildfire season, which has forced thousands from their homes and left other communities on high alert, is the worst on record, officials said Wednesday,
VIDEO | 'Hate and discrimination have no place in any TVDSB schools': Investigation underway after pride flag torn down
Students at Sir Frederick Banting Secondary School in London, Ont. are being investigated after a video was posted online showing students tearing down a LGBTQ2S+ pride flag.
Special air quality statement remains in effect, rain possible over the weekend
As wildfire smoke blankets Ontario and eastern U.S., causing hazardous air quality and hazy skies, smoke in the Forest City is expected to remain until at least Thursday night.
City pitches new parking garage and extended free parking to aid downtown London, Ont.’s recovery
Since early in the COVID-19 pandemic, the Honk Mobile Parking App has offered two hours of free municipal parking in London’s core area business districts.
Poor air quality in Waterloo region and Guelph will continue into the weekend: Environment Canada
There's high levels of air pollution in Waterloo region and Wellington County as smoke plumes from wildfires burning in Quebec and northeastern Ontario continue to blow into the region, Environment Canada says.
Six Region of Waterloo councillors announce support for amalgamation
One unified city – that’s what six Region of Waterloo councillors say they want when it comes to the future of the region’s municipal governance.
Habitat for Humanity nears completion of new affordable housing units
The work never stops at Habitat for Humanity when it comes to building affordable homes for families in Waterloo region.
Wildfire west of Sudbury prompts evacuation order, total active fires in northern Ont. grows to 54
A northern Ontario forest fire that started west of Sudbury on Sunday morning has grown to more than 1,000 hectares and has prompted officials to issue an evacuation order for the immediate area as the number of active fires in the region grows.
Spreading wildfires prompt northeastern communities to evacuate
Communities affected by wildfires in the region are evacuating for safety reasons. The province says there is significant danger as several out-of-control wildfires affect air quality and physical safety.
‘Incompetent’ northern Ont. doctor loses his license to practise medicine
A northern Ontario doctor has been stripped of his medical licence for conduct described as “disgraceful, dishonourable or unprofessional.”
NEW THIS MORNING
NEW THIS MORNING | Year-over-year home sales in Ottawa up 6 per cent in May
The Ottawa Real Estate Board says home sales were up six per cent in May 2023 compared to a year prior, marking the first year-over-year unit sales volume increase since early last year.
Special Air Quality Statement
Special Air Quality Statement | Wildfire smoke blankets Ottawa for a third day
Environment Canada has issued a special air quality statement for Ottawa, with the air quality at 10+ "very high risk" Wednesday morning. Conditions improved in the afternoon.
Plug-in air purifier blamed for row house fire in Craig Henry area
The Ottawa Fire Service says a plug-in air purifier is to blame for a fire on Craig Henry Drive Tuesday.
VIDEO | Weapon and drug charges laid after Lakeshore ‘road rage’ incident
A “road rage” incident has led to multiple charges for two Windsor residents after allegedly wielding a replica firearm at another driver.
'I just feel so empty': Mother opens up after teenaged daughter’s body recovered by police
The body of a woman reported missing in January has been found by Windsor police and her mother is struggling with the confirmation that her daughter is gone.
Alleged murder of Windsor woman marks region's 4th case of femicide in last two years, says advocacy group
In the wake of a first-degree murder charge being filed against a Michigan man for killing his estranged wife, a 36-year-old Windsor woman, the head of an emergency shelter for women and children says femicide is a growing problem in Windsor-Essex.
Barrie councillors hear grim reality of housing affordability crisis
Barrie city councillors got a shocking but not surprising reality check into the affordability challenges facing many residents looking to put a roof over their heads.
Simcoe County working towards plan to address homelessness
Like many regions across the country, Simcoe County is working towards a solution to end homelessness and create more affordable housing.
No injuries after fire in Clearview Township
As the country faces hazy conditions due to out-of-control forest fires from coast to coast to coast, emergency crews in Simcoe County were kept busy with a fire Wednesday evening.
'This is not helping': Frustrated evacuees say official communication lacking in wildfire recovery
Frustration is building among some people from neighbourhoods hardest-hit by the fires near Halifax. CTV's Heidi Petracek reports.
A 'whole list of hazards' are keeping residents near N.S. fire zones under evacuation: officials
It is still not safe for some evacuated residents whose houses were spared from wildfire damage to return home, officials from Halifax Regional Municipality and the District of Shelburne said.
Halifax support workers strike impacting students and families
The father of disabled teen from Fall River, N.S. is calling on all sides to get back to the bargaining table and put an end to the Halifax area CUPE educational support worker strike.
Council reconsiders decision to reject recommendations on affordability crisis
Calgary city council has reconsidered its decision to vote against recommendations made by an expert panel to address the city’s housing affordability crisis.
Man on mobility scooter hit by truck in northeast Calgary intersection
Police say a man on a mobility scooter has life-altering injuries after he was struck by a vehicle in a northeast Calgary intersection on Wednesday evening.
Hot, dry weather comes with cautions and a few benefits
Calgary was under a heat warning Wednesday with forecast high of 29C.
Trustee suspended over posts targeting LGBTQ2S+ community, division says
A Manitoba school trustee has been suspended over social media posts the division says targeted the LGBTQ2S+ community.
Continued closure of Fort Gibraltar causing changes for soon to be married couples
The closure of Fort Gibraltar following the collapse of an elevated walkway that sent 16 students and one teacher to hospital has left some couples scrambling to find a place to get married.
Crash with stolen vehicle sends two Winnipeg officers to hospital
A section of Main Street is closed on Wednesday morning following a car crash in the area.
Out-of-control wildfire on Lower Mainland sees massive growth
A human-caused wildfire on the Lower Mainland has grown to an estimated 800 hectares and continues to burn out of control Wednesday, according to the BC Wildfire Service.
'You don't listen to renters': Vancouver Tenants Union disrupts housing announcement
Rental housing advocates interrupted an announcement by B.C.'s housing minister in Vancouver Wednesday morning to object to the provincial government's response to the affordability crisis.
Vancouver voice actors concerned about AI cloning voices without consent
Advances in artificial intelligence means software can generate accurate voice clones that sound just like the real thing, but that's putting some actors in a precarious position, including Vancouver's Bill Newton.
Albertans asked to conserve electricity Wednesday evening due to hot temperatures
Hot temperatures across Alberta prompted a grid alert Wednesday afternoon.
'A long time coming': Edmonton Catholics commit $3.2M to Indigenous reconciliation fund
The Archdiocese of Edmonton will spend $3.2 million on reconciliation initiatives with First Nations, Métis and Inuit people in the Alberta capital region.
'Major travel delays': Anthony Henday Drive bridge will be closed this weekend
Drivers are being asked to find another way or prepare for delays on the Henday this weekend, because crews need to close a bridge over the North Saskatchewan River.