From the Diary of an African in Canada- By Itunu Taiwo
About two months ago, I visited Service Ontario at the City of Ottawa to apply for the Ontario Health Insurance Plan (OHIP). This was because my health insurance plan- The University Health Insurance Plan (UHIP) provided to international students expired on August 31, 2020.
According to the Ontario.ca site, to qualify for OHIP, one must meet the following requirements.
- Be physically present in Ontario for 153 days in any 12 months
- Be physically in Ontario for at least 153 days of the first 183 days immediately after you began living in the province
- Make Ontario your primary home,
As of March 19, 2020, the site also stated the three-month waiting period for OHIP coverage would be waived. In my case, one of the additional requirements that I needed to meet was to be living in Ontario on a valid work permit and be on fulltime employment for an Ontario employer, for at least six months. Although I was a qualified applicant, I was unable to proceed with the process due to one unforeseen and unpreventable issue that arose with the emergence of the Covid-19 pandemic.
As someone who had just graduated in June, and with the sudden and unanticipated outbreak of Covid-19 that brought everything to a standstill, I, just like many other Canadians was rendered jobless after my employer decided to shut down the business.Consequently, I had to rely on CERB for survival as I continued with my job search. As mentioned earlier, when my UHIP expired, I went to the relevant department within Service Ontario to apply for the OHIP. Still, I was confounded by the response, demeanor, and blatant disrespectful treatment I received.
First of all, I had to insist on speaking to someone about my application because one of the security guards tried to stop me from accessing the hall while explaining that ‘the requirements are here’ and handed me a piece of paper. When I finally got the chance to speak to the agent/attendant, the response I got was curt, unwelcoming and very dismissive. Even after trying to explain that I still had not found a fulltime job and was solely dependent on CERB, the agent stated that ‘unfortunately these are the rules, and we cannot change them’. In what she assumed was a better solution, she told me that I could still submit my application through my spouse.I was too exhausted to respond because at this point; I did not know how to tell them I was unmarried.
Before visiting Service Ontario, I was advised to reach out to a community health center in my neighborhood, where I would probably be entitled to receive the necessary medical attention. Sadly, I did not get the response I anticipated. While my case may not be unique, this whole experience opened my eyes to the numerous challenges that specific group of immigrants are faced with while trying to access health-related resources. Besides, they are also forced to overcome unforeseen barriers before they can fully benefit from universal health care in Canada.
Given the pandemic which has devasted nearly all sectors of the country’s economy, policymakers need to be responsive to the fact that the current regulations regarding obtaining OHIP are outdated and therefore consider amending them to accommodate cases like mine and other related cases.
As a work permit holder who regularly pays taxes, I should not be denied access to health care simply because I do not qualify to apply for a health card. Please also bear in mind my inability to work full time for at least six months was due to the pandemic.