Province-wide campaign seeks UHIP review

Society of Graduate and Professional Students International Students Co-ordinator Aasma Khan says UHIP isn’t recognized uniformly across the province.
Society of Graduate and Professional Students International Students Co-ordinator Aasma Khan says UHIP isn’t recognized uniformly across the province.
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International students at Queen’s pay more for less when it comes to health care, Society of Graduate and Professional Students (SGPS) Equity Commissioner Usman Mushtaq said.

The University requires students who will be in Canada for more than three weeks to purchase the University Health Insurance Plan (UHIP) before being able to register for courses on QCARD.

International students used to be covered under the Ontario Health Insurance Plan (OHIP), provincially-funded coverage by Ontario taxpayers, before coverage was dropped in 1993 under then-Premier Bob Rae. OHIP is provincially-funded health coverage for taxpayers in Ontario.

The SGPS is launching a campaign called “OHIP For All” along with the Canadian Federation of Students and other Ontario university campuses.

“What all the universities are doing right now is collecting signatures on petitions to ask Dalton McGuinty’s government to restore OHIP to international students,” Mushtaq said.

Both the province and universities would have to agree to the measure, he added.

The SGPS campaign has collected about 200 signatures to date.

“Our short-term goal is to reform UHIP so it’s more fair and more equitable,” he said, adding that students shouldn’t need to pay out of pocket expenses and there should be some regulation of fees and costs of coverage.

Mushtaq said the campaign’s long-term goal is to see international students enrolled back onto OHIP.

“Theoretically, UHIP is supposed to cover everything OHIP does. Unfortunately, that’s not how it works,” he said. “With OHIP you can go anywhere you want in Ontario, but because I have UHIP there is a list of

preferred hospitals.”

UHIP is administered by the UHIP Steering Committee comprised of university and government officials, Mushtaq said.

“There isn’t any formalized complaint or grievance process,” he said. “There is no formal agency to go to.”

Mushtaq said in working with SGPS students, he has heard of instances where international students were asked to pay for health care services at different Kingston hospitals because the staff didn’t recognize what UHIP was.

“Students go to the hospital and need specialized tests,” he said. “Instead of UHIP paying for them, these students had to pay for these tests out of pocket.” The Queen’s University International Centre (QUIC) had to talk to Kingston’s hospitals so the students could be reimbursed, Mushtaq said.

International students who work and file their taxes in Ontario technically pay for OHIP coverage and don’t have access to it, he said.

UHIP costs $756 per person for 12 months of coverage.

“Single-student rates for UHIP have gone up 43 per cent in the past two years,” Mushtaq said. “Family rates have gone up 111 per cent. There’s absolutely no way to control these costs.” Aasma Khan, SGPS international students co-ordinator, said UHIP isn’t recognized uniformly across the province.

“If students go to a place where there isn’t a university, then they aren’t familiar with UHIP most of the time,” she said.

In an emergency situation, if hospitals need to take the time to figure out what UHIP is, there’s a negative effect on international students, Khan said.

She said it’s also unfair for working international students to pay for coverage they don’t receive.

“There’s a certain amount you have to pay for UHIP and you pay for taxes,” she said. “It’s like paying for health twice.” Queen’s has to be assured that anyone who is coming to the University is insured, QUIC Assistant Director Susan Anderson said.

“If you’re going to lie in a bed at KGH [Kingston General Hospital], it costs approximately $3,000 a day without insurance,” she said. “We’re not talking about a doctor, just operating costs. … The cost of health care is enormous if you’re a visitor to Canada.” Anderson said every working person pays the same type of taxes, so she thinks there’s an argument to be made for international students to be covered by OHIP to some degree.

“We have to recognize the difference in cost for a citizen and a temporary resident to access a doctor; it’s several times more expensive,” she said. “I think the province should look at the amount of time international students are here and the way they engage with the province’s economy.”

—With files from Gloria Er-Chua

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