Newcomer’s still Struggling to Access Medicare
By all accounts, New Brunswick is in the midst of a healthcare crisis. Most New Brunswickers are painfully aware that systemic change is necessary to address the challenges directly impacting the health and well-being of our friends, families, and fellow citizens. But perhaps less obvious than what’s happening in our emergency rooms are the overwhelming obstacles newcomers face when trying to access Medicare.
Moncef Lakouas, president of the New Brunswick Multicultural Council, says, “Part of NBMC’s mission includes a focus on empowering newcomers to participate in New Brunswick society fully. Of course, participating in society includes contributing to it. But it is very difficult to contribute fully if one has unmet healthcare needs. Unfortunately, newcomers without a valid Medicare card are not even at the back of the long lineups leading to healthcare services; they aren’t even a part of the queue.”
Communication difficulties, navigating various policies and procedures, and a lack of transparency during processing are some of the pain points newcomers experience when applying for Medicare. Unfortunately, these issues contribute to long delays, and many are forced to forgo critical medical assistance or pay unaffordable fees out of pocket.
Lakouas says this is unacceptable and has been a top concern among newcomers and newcomer serving agencies for a long time. “Imagine you come to New Brunswick seeking a new life, fully willing to put in the hard work, proud to be part of our province’s population growth success. But then you or a family member is penalized for contracting an illness, trying to manage a disease, or even having a baby.” More than a year ago, NBMC commissioned a report on the ongoing issues associated with Newcomers and timely access to Medicare. Generously funded by PETL’s population growth department, NBMC worked with an outside agency to study the obstacles and their root causes. Extensive interviews were conducted with newcomers, settlement agencies, Medicare leadership members, population growth officers, and elected officials. After studying the information, a detailed report with suggested recommendations was compiled and presented to multiple community partners, including those in Service New Brunswick and the Healthcare Sector.
Maura McKinnon, recently appointed as NBMC’s interim Executive Director, acknowledges that some progress has been made but cautions that more needs to be done. “First, I would like to congratulate the honourable Bruce Fitch on recently becoming our Health Minister. Fresh perspectives create meaningful opportunities for change, and I join the NB medical community in welcoming such opportunities. My only hope is that the work done to improve newcomer access remains a priority. Newcomers are vital to the health of our province, and it is essential that we, in turn, look after their health.”
McKinnon also points out that solving the problem doesn’t belong to one person, department, or agency. “I believe it is a good time to revisit the findings and recommendations shared with our stakeholders last summer. We need to work together as a province to revisit current legislation, policies, and operating procedures. If we are serious about being an inclusive society, we need to be inclusive with our Medicare. The well-being of our province depends on it. But more importantly, the health of our newcomers demands it.”
In the interest of transparency, NBMC will be publishing the Newcomer Medicare report on its website In doing so, the organization is officially extending an invitation to work together with all those concerned and accountable.