The university’s plan for international students expires in the spring
The Dean of Students Office is renegotiating the university’s health insurance plan for international students, according to John Hutton, finance coordinator for the Concordia Student Union (CSU). The students’ existing health coverage plan expires this spring, according to Fiona Downey, Concordia’s interim spokesperson.
Currently, Concordia has a separate health plan for international students. This contract is managed by Andrew Woodall, the Dean of Students, and Blue Cross, the private health insurance company that covers all international students.
The health insurance plan for undergraduate Canadian students is managed by the CSU and Studentcare/Alliance pour la Santé étudiante au québec (ASEQ), the largest collective insurance plan administrator for student health and dental care in Canada.
For graduate Canadian students, it is managed by the Graduate Student Association (GSA) and Studentcare/ASEQ, according to Hutton.
“Concordia international students currently pay for the single most expensive international student health plan in the country,”said Hutton. He speculated that the high expenses are due to the fact that there isn’t much competition between different health providers in Quebec. Hutton added the university was more focused on simply providing a healthcare insurance plan for international students, than it was on making it affordable.
According to Hutton, the contract is run on a multi-year basis, usually three years but sometimes it can be extended for an additional year. The tabled three-year contract’s rate is being renegotiated between the Dean of Students and Blue Cross, according to Hutton.
“They are not getting the best health insurance plan in Canada at Concordia,” Hutton said, adding that the CSU received complaints from international students related to the co-payment for medications, lack of access to certain services like hormone therapy, and lack of dental coverage.
Tallie Segel, a second-year PhD student in social and cultural analysis at Concordia, is an international student from the United States. “I would love to have dental insurance and vision coverage,” said Segel. “I have a really strong prescription that changes often. Especially with student life, the type of work that I do, it causes a lot of eye strain and I am worried about my eyes all the time.”
Segel said the administration never told her how her insurance worked in terms of what is covered and what is not. “I don’t have a clear understanding here how the plan works and what is covered,” she said.
Segel added that the process for prescription reimbursement with Blue Cross is a bit of a hassle, and therefore, she does not make the effort to have it refunded, especially since her monthly prescription is inexpensive. Last fall, Segel paid almost $1,200 for her health insurance plan as part of her tuition fees.
According to Amir Molaei, the president of the GSA, the cost of the insurance for international students varies based on their status whether they are single, married or have a family. Molaei said that from 2015 to 2018, there was a 17 per cent increase for the single student plan and a 32 per cent increase for the couples and families plans. He added that this had affected a large number of graduate students.
Molaei explained that since some fees are not covered, such as dental insurance, many international students prefer to go back to their home country for the treatment they are unable to receive in Canada.
Molaei said he had some issues accessing Concordia’s Health Services. “I asked the receptionist that I want to have a [general] check-up,” he said. “They told me that if there is no problem with you, we wouldn’t refer you for the check up.” When Molaei went back home for the holidays, he visited his doctor and found that he had a deficiency in certain vitamins.
Hutton said the CSU and the GSA are presently preparing a pitch for the administration asking to put student associations in charge of the insurance plan for international students. “We would have a more transparent plan that would have more information easily available to students,” Hutton said. “We would be both able to negotiate a better deal in terms of lower premiums, more coverage, and have more incentive to do so.”
Molaei and Hutton said the GSA and the CSU will be meeting Woodall on Feb. 1 to discuss their proposal to manage the international students’ health plan. Although Downey did not confirm who was meeting with Woodall and Kelly Collins, the manager of the International Students Office, she did confirm they were meeting with student groups this week to start a consultation process. The aim will be “to gather information about what’s needed in a new health plan and what options exist going forward,” said Downey.
Both the union and the association have already reached out to many insurance plan providers to seek additional advice concerning this proposal. “As the current international student insurance plan is with the administration of the university, student organizations don’t have control over it and we hope to be able to take the control over the international students insurance in the near future,” Molaei said.
Graphic by Ana Bilokin.
A previous version of this article stated that “there isn’t much competition between health premiums in Quebec.” The sentence should have read “there isn’t much competition between health providers in Quebec.” The Concordian regrets the error.