International students deserve free health care

Despite barriers, international students are willing to fight for the Canadian dream

Graphic by Marina Djurdjevic, staff

As an international student, I understand the concerns raised when one decides to pursue their goals and aspirations by studying abroad, the costs of finding health insurance among them. I would like to think my parents are pretty confident in my recently gained independence, but before I left for Canada, they were meticulous about examining the insurance I selected.I can understand why, as health insurance really is a matter of life and death.Though I initially thought all international students enjoyed Canada’s internationally acclaimed and infamously “free” health care, it didn’t take me long to realize international students do not receive the same care as mostCanadian citizens.

Most international students aren’t just paying over $1,000 per academic year for their insurance — the medical coverage they’re paying for doesn’t always cover the assistance they need. This plays into the argument that Manitoba is treating its international students as cash cows.

InCanada, international students make up 17.1 per cent of total university enrolments, yet due to ever-growing differential fees — which cause international students to pay over four times what domestic students pay — they represent 35 per cent of the fees collected for health insurance by post-secondary institutions.

TheUniversity of Manitoba is not exempt from this disparity.

If international students’ tuition represents such a large amount of the income the university receives, it is fair to expect access to medical assistance in return. Though each international student enrolled at the U of M is insured under StudentCare and Manitoba Blue Cross insurance, we are nonetheless overcharged and under serviced.

Before the Progressive Conservatives came to power, the Health Services Insurance Act contained a clause that gave international students access to universal healthcare. However, in 2018, the Act was amended to repeal that clause on the basis it would save the province $3 million a year. Since then, petitions for inclusive health care have been a regular part of the fight to regain this right for international students, and the issue has garnered the support of theManitoba Liberal Party along the way. A petition for inclusive health care has been read in the Manitoba Legislature thanks to the relentless efforts of theHealthcare for All coalition, but governmental action is yet to be seen.

Although the numbers are grim, they don’t do justice to the hard realities many international students face. Last year, Calvin Lugalambi — an international civil engineering student at the U of M — was charged $123,000 in hospital bills after requiring an emergency surgery to fix an intestinal obstruction. At the time of the emergency, Lugalambi was transferring from the International College ofManitoba to the program of his choice. He claimed neither of the institutions explicitly informed him that he needed to purchase additional insurance or he would be uninsured during the summer.

After Lugalambi’s life-saving procedure, St. Boniface Hospital offered him a 10-year payment plan of $1,000 per month. Although better than upfront payment, this is an unsustainable debt for most international students, including Lugalambi.Despite his situation, Lugalambi said he wishes to finish school in Canada, making him one example of an international student willing to endure these obstacles for the sake of a better future.

When I came to Canada, I never expected to be treated as an equal, at least not by the government. After all,I am nothing but a foreigner seeking educational opportunities my home country is unable to provide. But international students deserve a level of human decency — the kind that does not take my place of birth or my immigration status into account when determining the medical assistance I receive. Universal health care is a human right that all Manitobans are entitled to, regardless of their immigration status. Ensuring it’s provided to international students is simply the price of encouraging them to pursue the Canadian dream.