Some international students at the U of M denied access to health coverage

International students at the University of Manitoba continue to be faced with various complications when trying to access healthcare.

When an international student arrives in Manitoba and enrolls in a post-secondary institution, the cost for private health insurance from Great West Life is automatically included along with their tuition fees.

Currently, the annual single coverage cost for an international student enrolled at the U of M is $408 according to Manitoba’s International Student Health Insurance Plan (MISHIP). The premiums for the plan change annually and are determined by Great West Life.

According to the University of Manitoba Students’ Union (UMSU) vice-president (internal), Aisyah Abdkahar, UMSU has heard reports of some international students who were not covered by a health plan at all.

“Students who do not pay their tuition in full are denied access to the MISHIP plan and are not able to pick up their health card that shows their proof of coverage,” she said.

Abdkahar explained that the students are denied care on the basis that they have not paid their MISHIP fees, even if a student has paid a percentage of their total fees.

Liz Gonsalves, former vice-president (external) of the Graduate Students’ Association (GSA), said that have been various instances when this has occurred this year. Once students found that there were others experiencing similar issues, they brought their concerns to the attention of the GSA.

“There was one international student in particular who actually ran into a situation where they were told they were not covered because they were not able to pay their fees completely, so when they were sick they were not able to go to their doctor,” she said.

Gonsalves noted that last year an international student who arrived during the winter slipped on the ice and broke their leg, only to find that they were not covered. The student ended up paying the hospital fees out of their pocket.

However, Abdkahar noted that the problem has started to be addressed, as the administration has since been able to work out the administrative problems by prioritizing the MISHIP fee, making it the first fee paid.

According to Kristie Boutet, an analyst with Aon Hewitt, the third-party administrators of the university’s health plan, the only time an international student can opt-out of the plan is when they have health coverage through a scholarship, under Manitoba Health Services
Commission, or if the student is covered under another Canadian provincial health plan.

“If they’re not enrolling in the insurance plan, then they shouldn’t be registering in the program at the university,” said Boutet, indicating that international students cannot be students at the university without a form of coverage.

Boutet said that students should be assessed for the international student health plan fees upon enrolment for classes. She noted that an international student should never be left without coverage, especially in the case of an emergency.

“We’ve had a few cases where students have come here and got into an accident or were in shops class at school and got cut working on the wood working machines. [ . . . ] If they didn’t have coverage, it would be a very expensive hospital bill,” she said.

Gonsalves said that the GSA feels that international students should be covered under provincial health care plans.

“There are questions regarding privatized health care in general — everybody always has suspicions,” she said. “It’s definitely not fair and it doesn’t acknowledge the contributions that international students make to Manitoba.”

The university supports this view, as a letter was written by president David Barnard to the minister of health to address the issue.

“We’ve met with the students and indicated we are reviewing the matter. We also received a letter from Dr. Barnard and will respond once we’ve completed our review,” said spokesperson for Minister of Health Theresa Oswald, Matthew Williamson.

UMSU and the Graduate Students’ Association health plan committee, through the Canadian Federation of Students-Manitoba, have been working on the Manitoba Health for International Students Campaign, which hopes to have international student in Manitoba covered by the basic provincial health coverage.

The province-wide campaign has involved meeting with different levels of administration and government, while trying to collect signatures to present to various government officials.
Alberta, British Columbia and Saskatchewan currently cover international students under the province’s basic health plan.