Like many incoming first-year students, Jessie Li planned to begin her career at UTM by attending the annual first-year orientation held in September. What she went through that day, however, was not what most students experience.

The international student from China set off from her Mississauga townhouse that morning. When she reached an intersection and the light turned green, she began to cross the street. A car that was turning right failed to stop for her, and, while slowing down, rolled over her foot.

Upon reaching campus after the apologetic driver offered her a ride, Li went to the UTM Health Centre to have her foot examined. Her English was minimal, so it was hard to understand what the doctor was saying. The doctor determined that Li’s bone was likely not injured, but still sent her to the hospital for an X-ray.

When Li arrived at the hospital, she went to one of the counters and presented a document from the Health Centre that confirmed that she was a UTM student and that the doctor had sent her for an X-ray. To Li’s surprise, the receptionist did not accept the document, saying that she had never dealt with such a document before, nor was Li allowed to take the X-ray.

“I [didn’t] know where should I go and I [didn’t] know what should I bring to take [an] X-ray in the hospital,” said Li of the incident. She never ended up getting that X-ray.

Now in her fourth year, Li wishes that UTM offered information sessions to help teach students how to use the University Health Insurance Plan, a compulsory private health insurance plan for international students.

“Maybe they have [such sessions], but many of us don’t really know about it,” said Li. “Many of us are alone here in another country.”

Beyond the lack of information on how to use the health plan, some groups are criticizing UHIP for its costs and limited coverage.

Alastair Woods, chair of the Canadian Federation of Students in Ontario (which UTM students are members of and pay fees to), claimed that programs such as UHIP are not accepted at all hospitals, “forcing some international students to avoid seeing a doctor even when they should”.

Although U of T’s health services website claims that UHIP offers “comparable” but “not identical” coverage as the Ontario Health Insurance Plan that Canadian residents enjoy, UHIP’s website confirms that UHIP is not accepted everywhere in Ontario. The website states that when a healthcare provider does not accept UHIP coverage, an international student “may have to pay out of pocket for [his or her] medical expenses, even if those expenses are covered under UHIP”. Those expenses can later be reimbursed with proof of payment. The Credit Valley Hospital is among the “preferred providers” who accept UHIP coverage in Mississauga.

“Many provinces, including British Columbia, Manitoba, and Nova Scotia, cover international students under their public healthcare programs,” said Woods, noting that international students were covered by OHIP until 1994.

As part of the CFS-O’s Fairness for International Students campaign, which is also concerned with international student tuition fees and immigration policies, the group met with the Ministry of Health and Long-Term Care last Friday to advocate for a return to OHIP coverage for international students.

The CFS-O’s submission to the Ministry states that while international students in British Columbia and Manitoba do not have to pay any premiums in order to be covered by their provincial health plans, they have to wait for six months before receiving coverage. The waiting period is 12 months in Nova Scotia, except for research assistants or graduate assistants, who receive immediate coverage.

The CFS-O proposed that OHIP be extended to international students without a premium and a maximum waiting period of three months.

Following the meeting, Woods said that the Ministry would investigate the group’s proposal and meet with the CFS-O to determine further action.

There is also a discrepancy between the costs of the two plans. Ontario residents pay OHIP premiums in tax depending on their income, beginning at $20,000, which means there is no cost for the average student. A year of UHIP coverage for one person is listed on as costing $648. Both are significantly more affordable than commercial healthcare plans.

This article has been corrected.
  1. September 28, 2014 at 4 p.m.: The photo is Christy Tam’s, not Mahmoud Sarouji’s.
    Notice to be printed on September 29, 2014 (Volume 41, Issue 4).

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