Nadja and Daniel Cooper are expecting to welcome their baby girl into the world June 24 in Whitehorse.
This “little one,” as Nadja calls her, is the couple’s first child and is already much loved. But Nadja’s pregnancy has brought not only joy, but also financial strain. Daniel is a born-and-raised Yukoner. As a new immigrant to Canada, Nadja — and, by extension, her unborn baby — are not currently covered by Yukon’s health care system. This means the Coopers have been paying for health care expenses related to her pregnancy out of pocket.
Under the Health Care Insurance Act, coverage for newcomers to the Yukon begins three months after their work visa is issued, said Pat Living, director of communications for the health department. Nadja, who was a payroll manager in Germany, said her work permit arrived March 27, although she has been living in the Yukon for seven months.
The Coopers were informed by Whitehorse General Hospital staff on April 27 that Nadja’s health care coverage will begin June 1. This means the Yukon has not covered any of her costs for things like ultrasounds, blood and urine tests and other standard procedures for ensuring the health of a baby.
Nadja applied for permanent residency in September 2016.
As of April 27, the couple said they have spent about $3,700 on prenatal medical costs. Nadja said the stress has made it “difficult to enjoy her pregnancy.” She said she felt she had not been able to give her baby the care she would have otherwise and that she had to postpone or skip routine procedures because of the cost.
If they had done everything that was recommended, it would have cost more than $5,000 by now, Nadja said.
Nadja said she has been lucky there have not been any complications so far, because if something had gone wrong that could have been caught earlier on, she “would definitely have blamed herself.”
“Everyone involved would feel better if we could do everything that was recommended,” she said.
There have been a lot of unexpected fees, the Coopers said. For example, when they have an ultrasound taken, they pay not just the technician and the hospital, but an outpatient fee to have it analyzed. This is not included in the base price of $670, which is what it costs a non-resident like Nadja to have the routine procedure done.
“My doctors know not to send my samples away (to be analyzed outside the clinic) anymore,” Nadja said. “We told them ‘please don’t send them anymore, we can’t afford it.’”
“Mystery bills from mystery places just keep coming,” said Daniel.
The Coopers said their doctors have been very supportive of their situation and have helped them set up a payment plan.
The Coopers met while Daniel was in Germany in 2013 and fell in love. Over the course of several years, the couple continued their courtship long distance with periodic visits between the Yukon and Germany. When the couple decided to marry, Nadja moved to the Yukon.
“It’s not a decision you make half-and-half,” she said. “You either move or you don’t.”
The pair were legally married to in August 2016 in a ceremony just outside of Whitehorse. Shortly thereafter Nadja became happily but “unexpectedly” pregnant they said.
Nadja had purchased traveller’s health insurance, which covered her for two years, she said. However, the policy does not cover pregnancy.
The Coopers sent a letter to Health Minister Pauline Frost and Shauna Demers, the director of insured health and hearing services, in January, to discuss the issue. They received a form letter from Demers which said she was not eligible for coverage at this time. They were not granted a meeting with Frost and the letter did not acknowledge their circumstances, they said.
When Nadja’s work permit arrived they received a phone call telling them she would still not be covered for three more months after the issue date of the work visa.
“There is no sympathy, no understanding from the health department,” Nadja said. “It really feels like they are trying to keep their distance.”
The couple are currently living on Daniel’s income.
“I feel this hasn’t been taken seriously. I feel ignored,” Nadja said. “No one deserves that. It would have been nice to have been granted an audience to talk about it.”
Daniel says he feels at fault for his new family’s difficulties because “this is his territory” and Nadja left a “much better” system behind, he said.
Brad Cathers, MLA for Lake Labarge and a former Yukon Party health minister, said the three-month wait after the issuing of a work visa was, “standard procedure,” but that these are unusual circumstances that should be taken into consideration.
“I would argue that compassion would dictate you do everything you can to accommodate (the Coopers) as soon as possible,” he said.
Cathers said he believes Demers has the authority to make the changes necessary to push Nadja through the system early, based on his interpretation of the Yukon Health Care Insurance Act.
The legislation lists the ability to “determine eligibility for entitlement to insured health services” and to “register persons in the plan” as powers of the director of health.
“It’s a fairly empowering act for the director,” Cathers said.
Living said there are no provision or regulations that would allow the director to make this kind of an exception.
Cathers said if he is incorrectly interpreting the act, it means that changes to the policy need to be made, which is something the Yukon government has done in the past. In 2004, he said, the government made amendments to the act so that children adopted into the territory from outside the country would receive health care benefits immediately upon their arrival, without the three-month waiting period.
“I would say that if the director doesn’t have the discretion to waive the normal three-month period — and I bet she does — then the regulation needs to be changed,” he said.
Living said that the health department would not comment specifically on Nadja’s case, citing privacy rules.
The Coopers said they would like the government to reimburse them for money they have paid.
“My little one will be a member of the community when she is born,” Nadja said.
Contact Lori Garrison at firstname.lastname@example.org