International student healthcare costs sharply increase

UMSU opposes coverage hike, hopes to reverse province’s decision

With international students in Manitoba set to begin paying for healthcare coverage for the 2019-20 year, a June 25 board of governors’ decision will have them paying even more than expected to this point.

The U of M board of governors approved an amended contract increasing the rate for international student healthcare at its June 25 meeting.

The amended contract increases the full-year rate to $864, up from $606 last year. This increase comes less than a year after the province cut universal healthcare coverage for international students in September 2018.

After the cut, the U of M announced it would cover international student healthcare premiums for the 2018-19 year. It was expected students would pay a $606 premium this year, but with the increase students will now pay an additional $258.

A statement posted to UMSU’s website and social media said the student union “opposes significant increases to international student healthcare.”

The statement said UMSU vice-president advocacy Sarah Bonner-Proulx and president Jakob Sanderson “voiced significant opposition to this increase, and to the university’s lack of action in attempting to combat the provincial government’s short-sighted decision” at the board of governors’ meeting.

Sanderson said in an interview that the increase is a result of the provincial government’s decision to hike the non-resident healthcare surcharge from 75 per cent to 200 per cent.

The increased surcharge means that if an international student requires an operation, their insurer must pay for the cost of the procedure plus an additional 200 per cent.

“This is a very direct result of a provincial government decision,” he said.

Sanderson was critical of the province’s decision, not only because of how it will affect international students but also the provincial economy, calling it “short-sighted.”

“The cost of international healthcare at the original rate is about $3.2 million,” he said.  “The amount that international students generate for the provincial economy is $400 million.”

“And that’s assuming that every international student simply goes home to their original country or moves out of Manitoba as soon as they’re done their degree. That’s just $400 million in revenue while they’re a student, never mind the type of highly skilled employees that they will eventually become once they are no longer a student.”

Sanderson said that while UMSU is disappointed with the provincial government’s decision and the university’s lack of action to combat it, they are appreciative of the university’s allocation of $500,000 in needs-based bursaries in the 2019-2020 budget which will hopefully alleviate some of the burden caused by the increased rate.

“Understanding that the university did not make this decision to increase the premiums, we are grateful that the university has heeded UMSU’s advice to establish a significant hardship fund,” he said. “However, we are very disappointed that the university’s senior leadership did not take a more active role in sitting down with the government, trying to negotiate with regional health authorities and exhausting every bullet in their chamber, so to speak, to try to prevent this from happening.”

Not only will international students be negatively impacted by the increased premium, Sanderson said, it may harm the university itself due to a likely decrease in international enrolment rates, which he called a “financial necessity” due to provincial budget cuts.

“This university just became a lot less financially attractive for students,” he said.

“That is a very unattractive position for this university to be forced into when trying to attract international students here, and we are just frankly at a loss for why the university didn’t make a real strong, concerted push to avoid this situation.”

UMSU’s online statement also mentioned an open letter to the minister of health and the premier calling for international student healthcare to be reinstated and the increased surcharge for non-resident healthcare to be reduced.

“We have circulated this [letter] within a number of student groups on campus that represent a high proportion of international students,” said Sanderson. “We have also sent this open letter to all other student unions at Manitoba universities and colleges and asked them to sign on, and we are also in discussions with [the Canadian Federation of Students] Manitoba.”

Sanderson mentioned plans for a letter-writing day in August and a rally on the steps of the legislature before the provincial election, but neither yet have set dates.

“We have been working, back since February and March, to write up a number of policy briefs in the lead up to the provincial election,” he said.

“We established 10 major priorities that we are asking all parties to incorporate, and we wrote up very detailed briefs on five core priorities of those, and one of those was the reinstatement of international healthcare.

“We look forward to continuing to make this a major issue in the provincial election.”