Helping Newcomers Access Health Care through the Interim Federal Health Program

Good news for newcomer health! Canada’s federal government has recently announced changes to the Interim Federal Health Program that will greatly support newcomer health.

The thing about big announcements like this is that there is often a gap between the good news, and how people actually go about getting the help.  This blog post aims to bridge that gap, by:

  1. Sharing some details of the Federal Government’s announcement.
  2. Providing more info about access to benefits for refugees settling in ONTARIO.
  3. Suggesting some ways YOU can help, whether you are a health care professional or just a “regular” person wanting to help newcomers access health care.

OK.  First, here are some details of the Federal Government’s announcement:

February 18, 2016—Ottawa, ON – All refugees and asylum claimants will soon benefit from full health-care coverage through a restored Interim Federal Health Program, the Minister of Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship, John McCallum, announced today.

Starting April 1, 2016, the Interim Federal Health Program will provide health-care coverage for all eligible beneficiaries – including basic, supplemental, and prescription drug coverage. Similar to provincial/territorial health-care insurance, the coverage will include hospital and physician services. Coverage for supplemental health-care services, such as vision and urgent dental care, and for prescription drugs, will be similar to what the provinces and territories provide to Canadians who receive social assistance.

By April 1, 2017, the Interim Federal Health Program will expand to cover certain services for refugees who have been identified for resettlement before they come to Canada. These services will include: coverage of the immigration medical examination, pre-departure vaccinations, services to manage disease outbreaks in refugee camps, and medical supports during travel to Canada.

These changes will improve the health outcomes of refugees and asylum claimants, while also protecting public health for all Canadians. Restoring the Interim Federal Health Program will also provide financial relief to Canadians who privately sponsor refugees, reduce the administrative burden faced by health-care professionals serving refugees, and ease health-care funding pressure on provincial and territorial governments.

Click here to see the full announcement.

In Ontario, according to the Ministry of Health’s “Ontario Health System Action Plan: Syrian Refugees – Dec 17, 2015

Arriving Syrian refugees will receive type 1 health benefits covered under the Interim Federal Health Program (IFHP), which is valid for 12 months following arrival. Refugees who settle in Ontario will be eligible for Ontario Health Insurance Plan (OHIP) coverage upon arrival.

All of the above is great news for newcomer health!

However, it can still be confusing for people to access the benefits and care, either because patients don’t understand what benefits they are eligible for, or because health care providers don’t know how to get registered.  Here is some help for that

Are you assisting a newcomer with accessing health benefits?  Learn what services and benefits newcomers are eligible for here:

Are you a health care provider wanting to find out how to register with the Interim Federal Health Program? Please make a phone call to Medavie Blue cross to get on the the list of providers and learn how to bill IFHP for eligible services/products. Please call  1-888-614-1880 as per  If you are a member of a professional association, please let all your colleagues know that they too can support newcomer health by offering services through the IFHP.

Are you a regular person who wants to help?  Well, as someone already settled in Canada, you probably interact with a lot of health care professionals!  Ask your health care providers if they are registered providers with the Interim Federal Health Program. Think broadly to all health care providers – including not only your family doctor, specialists and dentists, but also think of pharmacies, optometrists, opticians, physiotherapists, podiatrists, massage therapists, audiologists, imaging (X-ray and ultrasound).  All these professionals (and more probably!) can bill IFHP for eligible products and services, too if they are registered IFHP providers.  If the medical professionals in your spheres aren’t already on the IFHP provider list, let them know that they can get on it with a simple phone call to Medavie Blue cross at 1-888-614-1880 as per

If you do speak to your health care provider, I’d be very curious to know their response. Please come on back to this post and leave a comment below.

Thank you for reading this post to learn more about supporting newcomers in accessing health care in Canada.


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