Community Legal Clinics are mandated to do Public Legal Education and Law Reform Work.
The Ontario election campaign (in progress as we write this column) provides an opportunity to encourage dialogue on issues important to our community and clients. The matter of health benefits for low-Income people is one such issue.
Here are three facts to think about for the election and the days following.
Fact One: One third of workers in Ontario do not receive employer-paid benefits.
A 2015 study by the Wellesley Institute shows that a growing number of workers (1/3 of all workers) do not receive employer-paid benefits. This means that more and more people are going without prescription drug, dental, and vision coverage. Because jobs without benefits are often low-paid, these workers are unable to afford to pay these expenses on their own. That Wellesley report indicates that women, single parents, racialized groups, new immigrants, temporary foreign workers, Indigenous peoples, people with disabilities, older adults, and youth are more impacted by the lack of employer-paid benefits.
Fact Two: 1.6 million Canadians don’t fill prescriptions or skip doses – or fail to take medication at all – because they can’t afford to pay for it.
This shocking fact comes from a study published earlier this year from the University of British Columbia School of Population and Public Health.
Fact Three: One in every five Ontarians do not visit a dentist because they can’t afford it.
Instead, according to a recent Public Health Ontario study many go to hospital emergency rooms. However, they don’t get dental treatment there. In 2014, there were almost 61,000 visits to hospital emergency rooms for dental problems.
People on social assistance get prescription drug coverage and limited dental and vision care. All low-income children get OHIP+ prescription drug coverage and Healthy Smiles Ontario dental coverage. Improvements are called for.
For example, adults receiving Ontario Works (OW) can only access emergency services, not basic dental care.
Seniors have some drug benefit coverage but must pay a co-payment when prescriptions are filled and/or pay for their own prescriptions up to a deductible amount. They have no access to public dental coverage.
All Ontarians deserve benefits that will contribute to their health and quality of life.
The Income Security and Advocacy Centre has provided more detailed analysis on these issues at http://incomesecurity.org/
Last month we reported on Bill 26, provincial legislation that proposed waiving fees for individuals who cannot afford to pay fees required for photo cards and birth certificates. Sadly, this Bill died when the legislature adjourned in May.
Bob Wood is a Community Worker at the Hamilton Community Legal Clinic.