Lack of provincial coverage, inefficiency creates health care woes

By Caleb Dueck

A lack of provincial health coverage may be keeping some international students from seeking care.

When some international students are sick and would like to see a doctor, they choose not to, said Mandeep Sidhu, an international student and vice president internal of Red River College Polytechnic’s Students’ Association (RRCSA).

A lack of provincial coverage and inefficiency prevents some international students from accessing health care, said Mandeep Sidhu./MATTHEW ALCOCK

Sidhu, who connected with The Projector via an email exchange and phone interview, said restrictive health coverage and inefficiency are to blame. 

“The process of filing a claim is just too long and arduous,” Sidhu said. “It involves informing the college of the appointment both before and after it has taken place. The clinic then must confirm that the appointment took place before receiving any payment from insurance companies.” 

Students find the process difficult, so they avoid it, she added.

Sidhu referenced her own experience as an example.

While suffering from a skin condition, Sidhu photographed her ailment and sent it to her mother overseas, who brought it to a doctor. She sought medical advice from India rather than book an appointment in Manitoba because she believed the response would be faster, she wrote.

Stories like hers are commonplace in the international student community, Sidhu wrote. 

If it were easier for international students to understand insurance information and access Manitoba health cards, it would help, she added. 

In a 2018 move to save an estimated $3.1 million in healthcare costs, the provincial government repealed universal health coverage for international students.

“I don’t understand the reason why this happened, but international students are facing many challenges because of this,” Sidhu wrote. 

Before the change, students studying abroad reaped the full benefits of Manitoba’s health coverage. Now, they must seek out private insurance.

“When the government announced this, the Students’ Association worked with our insurance broker and the RRC international department to replace this formerly free provincial plan. We developed a similar replacement emergency health plan for all international students,” wrote RRCSA executive director Steve Nachtigall in an email. 

As an alternative, RRC Polytech automatically enrolls international students in the college’s health insurance program.

Insurance company Gallivan provides the coverage under its International Student Emergency Health Plan at an annual cost of $766.50. Students seeking dental care or extended health coverage pay an additional $120 and $135, respectively.

Comparatively, a similar insurance plan from the University of Manitoba costs $1032 for 12 months of coverage. 

“Unfortunately, this cost is fully burdened by the international student which goes on their fees. International students must have provincial equivalent coverage when they land to study in Canada,” Nachtigall wrote.