'Irresponsible' of Ottawa to leave some refugees without health care, says Wynne

TORONTO - Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne says it would be irresponsible to leave some refugee claimants without access to health care.

Wynne is once more defending her government's decision to extend health care benefits to some newcomers who were cut off by the federal government 18 months ago.

She and Health Minister Deb Matthews are taking aim at federal Immigration Minister Chris Alexander, who has criticized the Ontario move as a waste of money.

Ottawa trimmed medical benefits for newcomers to the bare bones in 2012 and cut some refugee claimants off completely, save for threats to public health.

Ontario reinstated the benefits Jan. 1.

The premier says the federal move has caused a lot of confusion about who is eligible for care.

"We have, as a province, said this is unacceptable," she said.

"The people who have been getting the services through the federal program will now be eligible to get services through a provincial program, because it is irresponsible of us ... as a society not to provide these services."

The federal government cuts left most immigrants with basic, essential health care, but trimmed supplementals such as vision and dental care.

However, rejected refugee claimants — and refugee claimants from countries the government considers safe — will be eligible for care only when they pose a threat to public health.

Alexander has accused the province of intruding into an area of federal responsibility.

"I've expressed our government's disappointment with the Ontario government's recent decision to reinstate health-care benefits to all asylum seekers and even rejected refugee claimants," Alexander said earlier this week.

He said Ontario is on its own to foot the bill.

Matthews said Ontario isn't alone and other provinces are also trying to deal with the cuts.

"Ontario of course attracts the bulk, 55 per cent of refugees are in Ontario, so the problem is biggest for us."

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