Friday, January 8, 2010

A Social Health Insurance Nightmare

Warning: This is not a Torah post. This is not a Life-in-the-Rabbinate or Life-in-the-Kollel post. This is an O Canada post. Skip to another one if you don’t want to hear a rant about something that may not seem like a big deal to you.

Also, while reading this, Americans should keep in mind that the planned US Healthcare plan will require orchestration between state and federal bureaucracies, as well as the IRS... I wish you lots of luck.

So there we were, innocently approaching the Canadian border back on August 18, our passports and papers in hand, complete with a letter from our beit midrash attorney explaining our immigration status. We looked at this as a momentary nuisance, 90 minutes in a squat brick office building watching our children’s behavior deteriorate while a clerk stamped and coded and printed out the documents that would render me eligible to work in Canada and would, 90 days later, qualify us for our the much-balleyhooed OHIP (Ontario Health Insurance Phiasco).

Screechy, Hitchcockian violins should have been playing in the background, to warn the audience of the six-month nightmare that awaited.

The clerk incorrectly entered me as a Minister of Religion, instead of a Religious Worker. This affected my ability to work; I should not have been able to get a Social Insurance Number on that entry visa, although, somehow, the SIN office didn’t realize it and granted me one anyway. Go figure.

Also, it meant I would not qualify for OHIP, Ontario’s provincial health insurance plan.

So, after several false starts, we got our papers together and went to the Federal Immigration office to have our visa changed. This was November 26. After some confusion, they granted us the new status, taking back our old permit and giving us our new, Religious Worker papers. They stipulated that our 90-day wait for OHIP would be counted retroactive to our original, August 18 entry. The new working papers noted that they were a substitute due to administrative error, and that despite the November 26 date on our new working papers, we had entered the country on August 18. My wife’s work permit, and all of my kids’ permits, listed August 18 as their official date and needed no replacing. All good, right?

After a few false starts, we went to the Provincial OHIP office to formally file – and they insisted that the 90-day count would not begin with August 18, but would instead begin with November26, because my working papers listed that as the official date of entry. So we don’t qualify for OHIP until February twenty-something.

Contacted our beit midrash attorney, who insisted that they should accept the papers, since they listed the August 18 date as well. Went back to OHIP this morning. Got nowhere. They wanted to see the original working papers – which don’t exist, because the government takes back the old when they grant the new. Offered them a xerox, but copies are not accepted.

They did offer us one option: Write an appeal to the OHIP General Manager. Want to guess the turnaround time on that? About four weeks – or the time when we’ll get OHIP anyway, even with the late date.

I understand that policy requires that they work with the official date on the work visa – but when the visa itself states that the right date is months earlier, the clerk should be flexible. In this case, neither the clerk nor the manager, for all of their politeness, listened to a word of reason.

Thank Gd and thank YU/TMZ, the Beit Midrash is generously retaining a supplemental insurance package for us until we get OHIP, however long that takes. It’s pay out of pocket, and it’s costing the Beit Midrash funds unnecessarily, but it’s the best we can do for now. But I worry about what happens to people who lack that kind of employer, or who lack the means to pay out of pocket.

I fancy myself a liberal on many issues, and I want to see universal healthcare; it’s a sane policy, not to mention a moral one. But it must be done right, which includes working with people intelligently and not obeying blind protocol. IT also includes agencies that work with each other – as opposed to Federal Immigration promising the 90 days will start retroactively, and Provincial OHIP demanding a document that Federal chose to destroy.

Otherwise, the very people you want most to help – the indigent, the homeless, the people without a safety net or support system, the ones who have no recourse when government dronesmanship takes over – will suffer most.


  1. Shavuah Tov Rav.

    What you need to do is to write the Minster of Health and let her know what is happening. The Ministry is legally required to answer your question so I would suggest email so that you have proof of when you sent the letter. You can find her contact information here:

    They need to know that this is happening so that they can try to make sure it doesn't happen again, if not rectify it now.


  2. The joys of bureaucracy at work. I wish you well in straightening this out. Be thankful it's not worse--there was a case here in the US a while ago of someone who died. The mais was being sent to Israel for kevura. The funeral home took care of all the details. A bureaucrat somewhere made note that the mais had an expired passport and therefore was blocked from leaving the country. Luckily a few people with "pull" were contacted and flying the mais out was only delayed about 9 hours.

  3. Tovah-
    Thank you very much! I'm in the airport waiting on a flight to Israel at the moment, but upon my return that sounds like the thing to do.

    That story sounds quite odd to me; I've been involved in international burials a few times, and don't recall anyone ever mentioning a passport requirement for the niftar. Strange.

  4. Rabbi,

    Apparently the bureaucrat failed to notice that it was a funeral home submitting the required paperwork for someone deceased and processed the paperwork as if the person were still living. You would think some things were obvious.

    Tzaischem u'voachem b'shalom