For most Canadians, universal healthcare – the ability for rich and poor to access and benefit from the same medical system – makes Canada one of the best places on earth to live.
But for those who do not have the privilege of taking advantage of this system when needed, life can be a living hell.
They are among the thousands of Quebecers who are without a medical insurance card and are unable to access health care when they are ill or pregnant.
Magalie Benoit, a coordinator at the Institute of Research in Public Health at University of Montreal, has been heading a study that she says will “paint a portrait of the health situation of people without medical insurance their mechanism for survival, and how they can be better served.”
The study is being conducted in association with Doctors of the World, an international NGO that provides service to marginalized individuals and communities around the world.
They have been operating in Quebec for the past 20 years.
Benoit estimates that there are between 20,000 to 50,000 people living in Quebec without medical insurance, among them are pregnant women, children and the elderly.
Among that group are those awaiting permanent residence status, those with student visas, some with open work permits and their accompanying families.
A significant number of them are from the English speaking Caribbean.
For those who are without coverage, staying alive and healthy becomes an adventure. A world where fear prevails.
According to Benoit, one person described it as “being treated worse than a dog, so rather than facing the kick-back that comes when seeking help, they rather look for their own solutions.”
Benoit says from the anecdotal evidence she gathered, these people are forced to make choices such as
• Waiting until the last minute to seek medical help
• Getting medication on-line or from relatives and friends overseas or
• They seek alternative medicine that is usually cheaper and easier to access.
Benoit’s study is also intended to shine a spotlight on these injustices in the healthcare system.
She says they’re also hoping to familiarize others with the work being carried out by those doctors, nurses and other healthcare practitioners who volunteer their time to serve marginalized people and communities.
They are also hoping to push the provincial government to do more to accommodate the uninsured.
“There’s a lot that can be done do to make it easier for these people,” she says. “We can do like they are doing in Toronto, where there are about 10 community clinics to serve not status individuals and those without medical insurance.”
She says also in Alberta all children, regardless of status, have access to health care and there’s no reason why we can’t do the same thing here in Quebec.
“Also, we can look at what they’re doing in Europe, where they make sure that all pregnant women have their medical needs met.”
She says the cost of offering these services are far less than what it would be when theses individuals are left to face emergency situations and the costs are forced upon the state.
According to Benoit, the process to assist these individuals is an on-going one that calls for a multi-prong approach.
That’s why her organization, the Institute of Public Health in collaboration with McGill University, is producing a Guide to help marginalized individuals navigate the challenges that are inherent to their situation.
Benoit says the publication, which will be on-line and printed, is a wide-ranging guide aimed at helping marginalized individuals access the basic services necessary for their survival in Quebec, such as housing, working conditions, access to food and medical care.
The findings of the study will be released later this summer.
More information available by contacting 514-349-3098.