More than 2,500 New Brunswickers are waiting for their Medicare card, resulting in longer than usual wait times for some newcomers.
According to the Ministry of Health, some applicants have been waiting for more than 15 weeks for their information to be processed. Others, including those whose cards have expired, experience a shorter waiting period of around 11 weeks.
Spokeswoman Michelle Guenard said the backlog is due to a record number of immigrants settling in New Brunswick and a historic wave of Canadians moving east, and many New Brunswickers who don’t didn’t realize their cards had expired until they tried to register for a COVID vaccine on the MyHealthNB website.
However, for immigrants and Canadian citizens moving or returning to New Brunswick from outside of Canada, there is no waiting period. They should be covered on their first day of arrival, but Mohamed Bagha, general manager of the Saint John Newcomers Centre, said that was not happening and it was fueling anxiety.
“Lately it’s been taking a lot longer than it usually takes to get a Medicare card,” he said. “There are a lot of uncertainties and challenges when they don’t get their health insurance card in time, and the message is not very clear [about] what they should do in the meantime.”
Guenard points to the 2.1 million applications for permanent and temporary residency and citizenship waiting to be processed by the federal government at Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada, delaying the documents needed to apply for health insurance.
New arrivals are paying for health care out of pocket or choosing not to seek the care they need, Bagha said. Although most people end up being reimbursed for their expenses, it’s daunting and unaffordable for many immigrants, he said.
People moving to New Brunswick from Canada must complete a three-month waiting period before being eligible for provincial health insurance. Most provinces will continue to cover former residents for two to three months after they move.
Rachelle Doucette settled into her new home in Hampton on Friday after moving to the province of Waterford, Ontario. She and her boyfriend are blessed with good health and said the risk of temporarily not having health insurance coverage is outweighed by New Brunswick’s affordability.
“We are first-time home buyers and we were actually able to afford a home here that didn’t break the bank,” Doucette said.
“Trying to find our first home was impossible in Ontario right now.”
Doucette plans to apply for health insurance as soon as she can. In the meantime, she and her boyfriend are hoping to stay away from the ER.
“All we do is hope for the best, and that’s all we can really do,” she said.
As of June 24, a total of 2,583 applications were pending processing, Guenard said. That breaks down to 1,312 new and returning residents from out of province, as well as New Brunswickers replacing expired health cards, she said. There were also 1,271 claims associated with new and returning residents from outside the country.
Statistics Canada recently estimated New Brunswick’s population at 804,855, an increase of 20,700 over the past 18 months.
The problem could get worse in the fall
Bagha would like to see the government work to speed up the process and come up with a plan for the pending immigrants.
“I think there are a lot of challenges in the system and everyone is trying to do their best, but health insurance is an essential part of integrating newcomers, and we have to make sure that we let’s continue to get these cards for newcomers in due course,” he said.
He expects the problem to grow in the fall as newcomers with children enter the school system.
“September is coming soon, and we will have a lot of children enrolled in the school system who will need vaccines,” Bagha said.