ACCESSIBILITY FOR ONTARIANS WITH DISABILITIES ACT ALLIANCE
NEWS RELEASE – FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Disability Rights Advocate Files Court Application Today Against Ford Government for Discriminating Against Blind People Like Him by Only Allowing Online Renewal of an Expired Health Card if a Person Has a Driver’s License – Ontario’s Own Official Photo ID Card isn’t Accepted
January 26, 2022 Toronto: Today, a blind disability rights advocate is filing an urgent court application contending that the Ford Government unlawfully discriminates against people with disabilities by only letting a person renew an expired Ontario Health Card online if they have a driver’s license. The Government will not accept its own Ontario Photo ID Card, created as official ID equal to a driver’s license.
“This is blatant disability discrimination in access to health care services in the midst of a pandemic”, said David Lepofsky, the case’s applicant, a lawyer and disability rights law professor. “We blind people can’t get a driver’s license!”
Yesterday, the story got more mind-boggling. At a virtual meeting yesterday, Government officials told Lepofsky that Ontarians will be able to renew an expired Health Card online using an Ontario Photo ID Card in lieu of a driver’s license, in effect conceding that this should be available. However, that won’t start until May. See Lepofsky’s letter to the Government about that meeting, below.
Also in effect conceding that the status quo is wrong, the Government told Lepofsky that starting in early February, the Government will let Ontarians apply by mail to renew an expired Ontario Health Card using an Ontario Photo ID Card in lieu of a driver’s license. While helpful for some, a mail-in application creates barriers for some people with disabilities.
There’s a more bizarre twist. In March 2020, the Government wisely decided that Ontarians can use expired Health Cards to get health services. This saved people from risking catching COVID-19 by going to Service Ontario in person to renew a Health Card. However, last fall, the Government declared that expired Health Cards must be renewed by February 28, 2022.
The Government has been asked to extend the February 28 deadline, so that people like Lepofsky don’t have to go to Service Ontario, and risk catching COVID, to preserve OHIP coverage. Yesterday, officials told Lepofsky that OHIP will tell physicians that after February 28, expired Ontario Health Cards are to continue to be treated as valid. However, inexplicably, the Government won’t extend the February 28 deadline for renewing expired Ontario Health Cards. It won’t tell the public that people with expired Health Cards can keep getting OHIP coverage after February 28.
“People have no way to know that they can continue to use an expired Health Card and receive health care with OHIP coverage after February 28,” said Lepofsky. “All they know is what the Government has publicly told them, which is that a Health Card must be renewed by February 28, to use it after that date.”
This means people will unnecessary risk getting COVID-19 by going to Service Ontario to renew their Health Card when they don’t need to do so. There is also a danger that some health care providers won’t get the word that they are to continue to accept expired Ontario Health Cards after February.
For background on
Text of January 25, 2022 Email from AODA Alliance Chair David Lepofsky to Senior Ford Government Officials
To: Alison Drummond, Acting Assistant Deputy Minister for Seniors and Accessibility email@example.com
From: David Lepofsky, Chair, AODA Alliance
Date: January 25, 2022
Re: Disability Barriers to Renewing Health Cards Online
I set out key points from the virtual meeting you and I had with Assistant Deputy Ministers from the Ministry of Health and Service Ontario. Among those attending this meeting was the General Manager of the Ontario Health Insurance Plan (OHIP).
At this follow-up to the December 16, 2021 meeting, I was told that the Government is working on enabling as soon as possible the ability for a person to renew an Ontario Health Card online, using an Ontario Photo ID Card in lieu of a driver’s licence. This is to be up and running by May 2022.
I was told that by early February 2022, the Government will have in place a means for a member of the public to renew their Health Card online, through a mail-in application, using one’s Photo ID Card in lieu of a driver’s license. Among other things, a person will fill in the number of their Photo ID Card on the mail-in application, and will not have to mail in their actual Photo ID Card.
I was also told that it has been decided that the Ministry of Health will notify physicians through the Ministry of Health’s avenues for sending out bulletins and notifications to them, that after February 28, 2022, an Ontario Health Card is to continue to be treated as valid even if it appears on its face to have expired. Those holding an expired Ontario Health Card will be able to continue after February 28, 2022 to receive OHIP coverage for insured health services.
However, I was also told that it had been decided that the Government would not extend the February 28, 2022 deadline for renewing an expired Ontario Health Card. The Government has also decided not to notify the public that individuals with an expired Ontario Health Card will be able to continue to receive OHIP coverage for insured health services after February 28, 2022.
I twice asked why the February 28, 2022 deadline is not being extended, given the foregoing, and why the Government decided not to tell the public that individuals can continue to receive OHIP coverage for insured services after February 28, 2022, even if their Health Card appears on its face to be expired by that date. I was given no reasons for this. I afforded all present a clear and fair opportunity to give reasons, and made it clear that in whatever was said to me at this meeting, I was not given any reasons for this.
I asked what plans, if any, the Government has to establish a means, such as a virtual Service Ontario office accessible via Zoom, for a member of the public to renew an expired Health Card, in circumstances where that person has no driver’s license and no Ontario Photo ID Card. I noted that before the pandemic, none of us would have known to get an Ontario Photo ID Card in order to be able to renew our Health Card online during a pandemic or otherwise.
I was told that this idea is on the Government’s radar, and that it is being looked into longer term, as the Government explores other digital options. However, there was no specific information to share with me about it at this meeting.
In response to all this information, I stated that while progress on this is appreciated, the information provided does not resolve the disability discrimination that now exists. For example:
- People holding an expired Ontario Health Card and a valid Ontario Photo ID Card will have no way to know that they can continue to present their expired Health Card and receive health care with OHIP coverage, after February 28, 2022. All they know is what the Government has publicly told them, which is the very opposite.
- This means that people in my situation will continue to experience the cruel and unfair choice of either losing health coverage, or having to go now to Service Ontario in person at the risk of being exposed to the highly-infectious and rapidly spreading Omicron virus.
- A mail-in option, while an improvement for some, can present disability barriers for people whose disability does not enable them to complete such a form by themselves. Some live alone. People will not want to have to expose themselves to the risk of getting infected by having someone help them with this in person.
- There is a real risk in this huge province that some health care providers, or those working at their front desks, won’t get the word from the Province that they are to continue to accept expired Ontario Health Cards after February 28, 2022. Indeed, what they all have heard up to now is the well-publicized fact that the opposite is the case. With the pandemic so pervasive, and with so many getting infected, there is an increased chance that people like me will encounter a replacement worker when we present our Health Cards for health services, who may well not have fully understood the confusing mixed messages that will have come from the Ontario Government.
- The measures to which the Government committed at our meeting, and detailed above, do nothing to remove the disability discrimination facing people with an expired Health Card, no driver’s licence and no Ontario Photo ID Card.
I asked to be given a chance to speak to the principals of those speaking to me at this meeting (such as the deputy ministers) who were further up the ladder in the Government, and who are deciding on these issues. I also explained that this is an urgent matter that needs to be corrected now. We cannot wait. At the very least, the Government should now widely and publicly announce to all, including the public, that expired Ontario Health Cards are extended past February 28, 2022 and that they can continued to be used to get insured health services after February 28, 2022.
David Lepofsky CM, O. Ont
Chair Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act Alliance
CC: Patrick Dicerni
Assistant Deputy Minister, Executive Officer & General Manager | OHIP, Pharmaceuticals and Devices Division (Health) firstname.lastname@example.org
Director | Health Insurance Branch (Health) email@example.com
Assistant Deputy Minister (Acting) | Operational Support Division (Government and Consumer Services) | Joanne.Anderson3@ontario.ca