Changes to disability support for cancer patients in Ontario: too soon to tell

UPDATE: After the publication of this fact check, the North99 Facebook page removed the post in question and replaced it with this post. The new post accurately reflects the possibility that changes to Ontario's definition of disability could negatively impact the ability of cancer patients to qualify for disability support.

A recent Facebook post claims that Ontario Premier Doug Ford’s proposed changes to provincial social programs will end disability support for cancer patients. This is misleading: Ford’s government is considering changes to the definition of disability, but has not submitted any concrete amendments specifically targeting cancer patients.

“Doug Ford is cutting disability so that cancer patients will no longer be eligible for support,” claims a Facebook post by North99, a Canada-focused Facebook page with more than 78,000 followers.

Ford’s Conservative government did propose changes to Ontario’s social assistance programs in the provincial legislature on November 22. They are targeting Ontario Works (OW), which provides assistance for low-income Ontario residents, and the Ontario Disability Support Program (ODSP), for Ontarians whose capacity to work is impaired by a disability, such as cancer.

A press release outlining the reform says that the reform aims to provide “clarity to the system around who qualifies for ODSP in the future.” It also states that Ontario may align it’s new definition of disability “more closely with federal government guidelines.” No specific mention is made of cancer patients and whether their eligibility will be impacted by the new changes.

“A person with cancer can qualify as long as they meet the program’s definition of a person with a disability,” Kristen Tedesco, a spokesperson for the Ontario Ministry of Children, Community and Social Services, told AFP by email.

Tedesco told AFP that cancer patients’ eligibility would remain unaffected under the proposed changes, adding that “not only is this graphic categorically false, it provides undue stress to the vulnerable Ontarians currently on social assistance who may take it at face value.”

However, Nathalie Mehra, co-director of the Ontario Health Coalition, an NGO dedicated to healthcare in Canada, told AFP she believes that a new definition could affect cancer patients.

“It’s extremely hard to receive benefits under the federal definition,” she said, adding that the reform “could mean that people with certain degrees of cancer could be finding themselves ineligible.”

The Canadian Cancer Society declined AFP’s request for comment, stating that “there’s not currently enough information available.”

The Ford government’s definition of disability has not yet been proposed, although a press release on the matter suggested that more details will be available “in the coming months.”

Stating that cancer patients won’t be eligible for disability support after the provincial government’s reforms is speculation. However, there is a possibility that certain cancer patients in Ontario could lose eligibility under a new definition of disability.

This post was updated on December 4, 2018 to reflect that the North99 Facebook page removed its post.