A brain researcher who has returned to Winnipeg after a decade abroad has to buy private health insurance for his Italian wife because Manitoba won't cover her, even though it pays for the spouses of foreigners who are here on a work visa.
"It's just a very strange situation to be in," said Robert Beattie, a Canadian citizen who moved here from Europe in July to become assistant neurobiology professor at the University of Manitoba.
In April, as they prepared to move to Canada, they applied for permanent residency for Beattie’s wife. His two children are Canadian citizens.
Although the federal immigration department says it takes three months to process a request for permanent residency, applicants have reported delays of up to one year.
Beattie has to pay $200 a month for private insurance for his wife because Manitoba doesn't provide health coverage to foreign spouses of Canadian citizens until they have permanent residency. The province does offer health insurance to foreigners who are here on work visas, as well as their spouses.
In Ontario, anyone who has applied for permanent residency, and can prove they meet the requirements, qualifies for that province’s medical coverage, instead of having to wait for permanent resident status.
Beattie is puzzled by Manitoba's law.
"It's been really eye-opening to see the bureaucracy involved," he said.
He has tried to convince the PC government to consider changing the rule, by lobbying his MLA, Tory Andrew Smith, and Health Minister Audrey Gordon, as well as her predecessor Heather Stefanson, who is the new premier.
Instead of a response from a politician, Manitoba Health sent him a letter confirming that Beattie's wife does not qualify for provincial health coverage.
“It's been really eye-opening to see the bureaucracy involved." ‐ Robert Beattie
On Tuesday, Gordon's office wouldn't say whether it will consider changing the law; instead, it referred to a departmental statement.
"Manitoba Health and Seniors Care is continuously reviewing its policies; however, at this time, our government follows the eligibility requirements set out in the Health Services Insurance Act," reads the statement.
"This act authorizes Manitoba to provide health insurance benefits only for residents of Manitoba."
The government would make Manitoba a more attractive place for mixed-nationality families if it changed the coverage rules, Beattie said.
"A small change from the health minister in the (legislation) could make such a large difference, in many new Manitobans' lives," he said.
"That's where my disappointment comes; it seems like it would be a relatively straightforward fix."
The NDP says it is aware of several people in Manitoba who pay $200 or $300 monthly for private health insurance as a result of the gap.
"A small change from the health minister in the (legislation) could make such a large difference, in many new Manitobans' lives." ‐ Robert Beattie
"Despite their efforts to integrate and contribute to Manitoba (spouses face) an expensive burden that many struggle with, causing many to deny themselves access to necessary health-care services," says a letter to Gordon dated Aug. 26.
Beattie said his workplace benefits cover part of the cost, but he wants to use his position to raise the issue because others must pay out of pocket.
"I'm more disappointed that other families, who might not have the same advantages as we do, will have to overcome these hurdles," he said.
"Manitoba should try to be as accommodating as possible, so that we can welcome back other Manitobans and their families."