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UBC students waiting for appointments at Student Health Services

iMed health insurance policy makes it difficult for UBC’s international students to afford birth control

iMed, does not cover ‘elective medical treatment’ — including contraceptives

By Andrew Seal , in Health Life , on November 23, 2016

International students at the University of British Columbia are hit with extra fees that other students don’t pay to access birth control due to a gap in coverage by health-insurance plans.

The insurance plan that is mandatory for international students, iMed, does not extend coverage for what it calls elective medical treatment. That includes contraceptives.

This leaves students with two options. They can either pay to see a doctor, at $75 for a visit, or choose to go without birth control for the three-month period it takes to be enrolled in B.C.’s medical services plan.

Students have to pay to continue their prescriptions from home

For UBC student Lucile (a pseudonym to protect the privacy of the student), this has meant extra costs that she would not have had to pay at home.

“I had a prescription from my doctor in the U.S., but couldn’t get it filled here so I had to pay the full cost for an appointment,” says Lucile. “All I did was show the doctor what I was taking and they wrote me a new [prescription], probably took about a minute.”

According to UBC student services, iMed card holders technically shouldn’t have to pay to visit the doctor on campus. But iMed’s policy has a long list of exclusions, including elective medical treatment and contraceptives.

A short doctor’s visit to get a prescription costs $75 on campus. It can cost more than $100 if students choose to see a doctor off campus.

A student enters Student Health Service
Students must pay $75 to visit a doctor on campus to access birth control with iMed.

For some students, like Lucile, waiting three months for MSP coverage is not an option.

“I use [birth control] to treat a medical condition, so going off of it wasn’t a good option for me,” says Lucile.

She was on birth control in the United States for several years, but she ran out of her prescription before she could be covered by MSP.

The costs to pay for a doctor’s visit can be particularly burdensome when they are added to already high tuition rates and moving expenses for international students.

Lucile says it adds even more stress for international students.

“During such a transitional period, students shouldn’t be facing any more barriers than they have to, to be accessing very basic medical services.”

iMed offers extensive coverage to pregnant students

UBC students are generally well covered by a combination of health plans. The AMS/GSS student health and dental plan pays for 80 per cent of prescription costs, which covers the international students even during the three-month period before they get onto B.C.’s medical-services plan.

iMed’s policy includes most doctor’s visits, even providing for $25,000 in maternity coverage for pregnant students.

Birth control is one of the only things students have to pay for out of pocket. Some students, like Lucile, do not believe birth control should be considered elective.

“I think birth control is a human right, and is very important for protecting the health and well-being of people who use it,” says Lucile.

Health coverage should be equal for all students

People with UBC’s international-student program and Student Health Service didn’t give any sign they thought the gap in coverage was a problem.

Under the current policy, the solution for international students who do not want to pay or stop taking birth control is to bring a three-month supply of their prescription from home.