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University of B.C. international student Pratyush Dayal holding the Medical Service Plan card

Rise in health-insurance fee worries UBC international students 

Staff and students of UBC brace for a hike in health-insurance premiums

By Priya Bhat , in City , on November 20, 2019

Most people in B.C. will see their medical-service premiums eliminated as of Jan. 1, 2020.

But international students will see them double to $75 a month.

Some students are already anxious about the increased fees.

 “As a new international student, I have so many things to deal with and the last thing I want to worry about is my health,” said Nashwa Khedr, a first-year PhD student at the University of B.C. from Egypt. “I will pay the new amount, but I understand that this is a huge increase and situation for those who are on a really tight budget.”

The university’s student society is hearing the same from other students about the new Medical Services Plan fees.

The University of B.C. hospital on campus where students frequently use the services provided by their Medical Services Plan.

“We find it very concerning that in a city that has a lot of issues around affordability and cost of living, these costs are increasing,” said Cristina Ilnitchi, vice-president of external affairs at the Alma Mater Society.

The society has been in talks with student unions across the province such as the BC Federation of Students to gauge student reactions on this matter. They plan on collaborating with these groups to advocate for international students and ensure that the province understands the impact it will have on them.

 “We’ve had conversations with government about this really negative, inaccurate rhetoric of using international students as cash cows,” Ilnitchi said.

UBC is helping out some international students with the surprise fees

UBC has made emergency funds available for those caught unprepared for this expense.

According to the latest figures, B.C.’s 58,600 international students currently contribute about $26 million through the health-care coverage fee.

This is 0.001 per cent of the province’s $21 billion total health budget. The doubled fee for international students will only add another thousandth of a per cent to the bottom line.

The new health fee for international students was announced in August 2019, posted on the Medical Services Plan  website and sent as an alert message on the payment portal.

Although UBC has no formal role in notifying students of these changes since MSP is a direct relationship between the province and the student, the university has sent emails to all international students on a monthly basis since August. Students were also briefed during this year’s orientation program.

Michelle Suderman, director of international student development at UBC, explained that the ministry saw this as a “reasonable rate for international students to pay,” given that they aren’t otherwise contributing to the British Columbia tax base, which is where the payments for MSP are coming from for B.C. residents.

Michelle Suderman, director of international student development at UBC, discuses the new fees in her office.

“There’s been relatively little negative feedback from students that has come to our attention,” Suderman added. 

But Khedr said that’s not surprising, given how reluctant some students might be to speak out

 “You are a stranger coming alone to this country. The last thing you would want is to fight the system,” Khedr said.