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Science student left without health insurance for two years

Ashley Watt_2

Peter Mccabe/THE TORONTO STAR Ashley Watt.

When Ashley Watt headed for Australia in December 2010 for eight months, the Barrie native had no idea it would land her in a conundrum that has left her without health coverage more than two years later.

Now 21, Watt has ovarian cysts and can’t afford to pay for the medical attention she needs.

“I’m a Canadian citizen and I don’t have health coverage and nobody’s willing to make some leeway for the situation,” said Watt, who graduated in 2009 and is now a first-year student at Concordia University in Montreal. “I never saw myself in this situation . . . I’m pretty young and to already be facing (this), I feel pretty rejected.”

Watt returned from Australia to her Barrie home in August 2011. The following month, she headed for college in Montreal.

There lies the problem.

Ontario’s provincial health insurance covers students who are studying in another province, but only if they spent a minimum of 153 days of the year prior to leaving in Ontario, Ministry of Health spokesperson David Jensen wrote in an email.

Watt, who had advised OHIP she would be out of the country, only found that out when she went to reactivate her coverage upon her return from Australia. She said she was told not to worry; she could apply for Quebec health insurance.

But Quebec won’t cover her because she’s not a permanent resident there. According to Quebec’s provincial health insurance rules, out-of-province students should be covered by their home province.

She wrote to OHIP imploring management to reinstate her health insurance.

“So here I am stuck in the middle,” she wrote. “I am sick with no coverage and neither province wants to accept responsibility for providing coverage. My home is in Ontario, my school in Quebec and my health in limbo. I am asking that you make some exception to your rules so that I can get medical treatment and continue to pursue my academic goals.”

Watt said she has applied for OHIP three times. Each has been rejected, as have her two appeals. Quebec has turned her down twice.

In February 2012, she went to an emergency room in Montreal with severe cramps in her side. Watt left with a diagnosis of ovarian cysts — and an $ 800 bill. Subsequent doctor appointments were $ 80 each.

She said she’s grateful her family helped her with the medical bills but placing the burden on them isn’t fair, either.

The last rejection notice she received from OHIP, dated Dec. 17, 2012, said she was turned down because Ontario is not her primary residence. She disagrees: her parents’ home in Barrie is her permanent address, she has an Ontario driver’s licence and she spends breaks from school in the province.

The Mayo Clinic notes that ovarian cysts can cause the ovary to move out of position, creating painful twisting of the ovary; also, cysts can cause severe pain and internal bleeding when they rupture. Watt said she is supposed to go for further testing and treatment, but she’s holding off.

“It comes to the point where you can’t really afford to pay for everything anymore,” said Watt, who also works as a tutor.

Jensen at the Ministry of Health said the ministry cannot comment on the specific situation due to privacy and confidentiality issues.

Natalie Mehra, director of the Ontario Health Coalition, said the issue of “portability” of one’s health insurance between provinces is a long-standing issue that should be precluded by the Canada Health Act.

“You should have health coverage and it shouldn’t be an issue to get,” said Mehra. “She should have health coverage, by anyone’s estimation.”

The Canada Health Act is supposed to ensure “reasonable access to health services without financial or other barriers,” according to Health Canada.

Colleen Flood, a professor and Canada Research Chair in health law and policy at the University of Toronto, wrote in an email that “it would seem from the Canada Health Act that the intent is for all residents to be covered but that Ontario has defined resident in a certain way that would exclude this person — obviously the Canada Health Act had not really contemplated the scenario.”

Watt said it seems her only option to get coverage is to leave school for a semester and return to Ontario. She wants to be a veterinarian and, with seven more years of school looming, doesn’t want to miss the time.

“I have the right to chose where I go to school,” she said. “(But) it doesn’t really leave me with many options. It’s just not going anywhere.”

thestar.com – News

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