Every year as we enter influenza season, Canadians are urged to get a flu shot. With the COVID-19 pandemic, it’s especially important this year. Seniors, like me, are particularly encouraged to get it. There’s no charge for anyone in every province, except Quebec and British Columbia.
However, if you’ve recently moved between provinces, bureaucratic red tape gets in the way. I moved from Ontario to Saskatchewan in August, made an offer on a house and took ownership in September.
I was only able claim to be a permanent resident in Saskatchewan after I moved into my new home. Permanent residency status is required to obtain a provincial health card and a driver’s licence. The provincial rules regarding what constitutes evidence of permanent residence are cumbersome.
While it’s not unreasonable to require such evidence to obtain a health card or a licence, the red tape is. Having an accepted offer for a house is insufficient evidence, because you may not intend to live in it. Even though you can’t buy a house in Saskatchewan without having insurance for it, the fact that you paid for the insurance before moving in also doesn’t signify residency – it only counts once you’ve moved in and the insurance is effective.
A cell phone contract similarly doesn’t count as evidence because, despite your address being on the contract, you might not live there. You need other utility bills addressed to your house to be able to apply and these don’t start to come until you’ve lived there for a month or more.
I could have used a Saskatchewan driver’s licence as one piece of evidence of permanent residence. However, I couldn’t get one, or register the vehicle I drove here in, until I had a permanent home and the same documents as required for a health card.
Even when you’ve waded through all this officialdom and successfully applied for a health card, it still takes three months for it to become operative (mine starts in December). This essentially means that you must have been in Saskatchewan for at least four months before you can receive a health card. You’d better make sure that you have sufficient medicines to last while you wait for your card as you can’t register with a physician to get a prescription until you have the card.
More important to me right now is that, because I don’t have a Saskatchewan health card, I can’t receive the flu shot here. No process exists for cross-border charging for flu shots or other medicines. Crucially, it will be concerning if the same red tape limits access to a COVID-19 vaccine.
I could, of course, fly to Toronto on a non-physically-distanced flight and isolate as much as possible in a hotel for 14 days. Assuming I avoided catching COVID-19 during this time, I could receive a flu shot in an Ontario pharmacy. However, if the situation is anything like that in Saskatchewan pharmacies, I would need an appointment, which is not available for two weeks. After receiving my flu shot, I could return home, risking further COVID-19 exposure.
A faster and cheaper alternative would be to fly to the United States, pay for the vaccine there and fly back the next day. The COVID-19 risk might be higher than in Toronto, but not by much and it would be for a shorter time.
Obviously, it would be easier to pay for a flu shot in Saskatchewan. However, none is available for purchase. Besides, in the birthplace of Medicare, wouldn’t it be un-Canadian to pay at the time of service?
My only rational option is to stay home for seven weeks or more until I become a real Saskatchewan resident on receipt of my health card and can make an appointment for the flu shot. My few outings will be to buy essentials – while wearing a mask and trying to avoid the many people who still think that, because COVID-19 case numbers are comparatively low in Saskatchewan, they don’t need to wear a mask or physically distance.
Canada is a great country, but I doubt whether Saskatchewan is unique among the provinces in its bureaucratic policies. The country badly needs to reduce the inter-provincial red tape that continues to impede our personal and working lives.
Nigel Rawson is an independent researcher based in Saskatoon and an affiliate scholar with the Canadian Health Policy Institute.