Migrant worker advocate says those mistakenly billed for COVID-19 care creates additional deterrent

A local migrant worker advocate says the mistaken billing of workers in Windsor-Essex who received medical attention for COVID-19 is just another deterrent for others to not access care. Justice for Migrant Workers organizer Chris Ramsaroop told CBC News that some undocumented migrant workers have been billed for healthcare services related to COVID-19 in Windsor-Essex.He said this should be a "tremendous concern" because if others find out, it could be another barrier to workers accessing care. Erie Shores Healthcare communications director Arms Bumanlag told CBC News that the hospital "had a few bills that were brought to our attention that were sent in error for COVID related issues. What we've done here at Erie Shores is immediately reverse those charges and apologize." Workers have been concerned with getting tested because they are worried of reprisals if they test positive, Ramsaroop said, adding that being mistakenly charged won't help when it comes to them getting tested or accessing care. As of Monday, 19 of about 175 farms in the Windsor-Essex area have completed onsite testing, according to Ontario Health, amounting to about 1,800 workers being tested.About 11 per cent of all workers who have been tested are positive for the disease. Bumanlag said the bills were likely sent out because the hospital is trying to limit the amount of clinical information that is accessible to non-clinical staff, which includes their billing clerks. During this process, the care a patient receives has been removed to protect patient confidentiality.He said they have now created a process where they will put a note on all COVID related care invoices. The messages say the billing office needs to be immediately notified to cancel any charges. "We are actively encouraging anyone who has received this bill to let us know that you have and we are going to correct it," Bumanlag said, adding that he realizes they have a very different demographic in the county and because of that they need to "work harder" to engage with the migrant worker community. "We've tried very hard to break down barriers to accessing care in our community…potential financial issues [shouldn't] stop someone from receiving care." In a March press release, the provincial government stated that testing and treatment for COVID-19 should be free of charge in Ontario. The province has said it would cover the cost of COVID-19 services for people who are uninsured and don't meet the criteria for OHIP coverage. By doing so, the province said it hopes no one will be discouraged from getting tested or treated for the disease due to financial concerns.

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