Inflated international health premiums harm us all

Conservatives must recognize the economic importance of international students

One week ago in Greenville, South Carolina, the president of the United States stood at his lectern while hordes of MAGA-clad supporters showered the room with chants of “send her back” aimed at Somali-American Rep. Ilhan Omar. These racist attacks were met with Trump’s nods of tacit approval.

Such moments of racist, exclusionary rhetoric barge through the consciousness of even the most casual of political observers. When it emerges from our southern neighbour, it allows Canadians to universally pat ourselves on the back for being such an inclusive utopia.

These instances have cleared plenty of space for an equally damaging policy agenda to thrive in conformance to this disturbing zeitgeist. The separation of families at the American southern border, questions of citizenship on the census and an immigration ban on Muslim majority nations all fall within the ideology that the “others” — non-citizens, non-whites, minorities of all intersections — are the threat to the “real” citizens’ welfare.

How lucky are we to not live in such a place?

Many proponents of these draconian policies are also often against the expansion of healthcare coverage for uninsured citizens — some who go so far as to describe calls for the provision of healthcare to undocumented immigrants as beneath the priorities of veterans and middle-class citizens.

Consider now the recent actions by Manitoba’s government with regards to healthcare for international students and it becomes hard not to reckon that “Friendly Manitoba” is becoming increasingly unwilling to live up to its moniker.

In the spring of 2018, the government ceased to fund international student healthcare, putting an end to a policy that had been in place since 2012. Last year, the government claimed that premiums would likely be in the range of $400 — a reasonable estimate given British Columbia and Alberta have premiums within this range — as part of their plan which mandates international students buy into the universal provincial health care plan upon earning their study visa.

Manitoba’s current government, however, has instead caused premiums to skyrocket by comparison. Our government chose to leave each university to find a private provider.

The plight of international students continued when the government directed regional health authorities to increase the surcharge on healthcare for non-residents from 75 to 200 per cent. As a result, University of Manitoba international student premiums will rise to $864 per student beginning Sept. 1.

This rate is double the government’s projection from just 16 months ago. When combined with recent increases to tuition, this becomes a severe financial burden. But the populist beauty of such policies is that we are taught to not care.

Do you see how American alt-right policies can arrive at your Manitoban doorstep? We are told that these are simply the hard choices we must make, to shave $3 million off the deficit and get “value for money.”

I don’t believe the government is racist. They may genuinely think this was a necessary, prudent financial decision.

The right’s best works of art require economic legitimacy as their frame.

Economics plays better with suburban voters, and with politicians who are already inclined to accept austerity as optimal policy.

But make no mistake, the removal of international health care subsidization, privatization of insurance and increase of premiums is bad economic policy.

No matter your social and cultural world view, we need to oppose this.

If Manitoba’s international student enrolment increased by just 0.75 per cent, the $3 million saved by cutting international student healthcare coverage would be easily offset in economic growth.

When Manitoba became the first province to cover international healthcare in 2012, we were joined by New Brunswick, Saskatchewan and Nova Scotia, with British Columbia  following suit — starting January 2020.

Recognizing the economic value they present, the federal government is set to invest $148 million over five years, part of which will be used to recruit international students to Canada.

With increased competition Canada-wide, Manitoba needs international students more than the students need Manitoba. Given these additional financial barriers in Manitoba, an international student is more likely to choose a friendlier destination.

In Canada we often remark that diversity is our strength. Regardless of whether you recognize the positive manner in which international students enrich the social and cultural fabric of our society, it is irrefutable that this slogan applies to our economy.

We call on all provincial parties to act in the best interests of all students and commit to restoring international healthcare coverage prior to the Sept. 10 election.