As of this September, the premium for McGill’s health insurance plan for international students has dropped by $101 per year for individuals, $312 per year for individuals with dependents, and $594 per year for individuals with families, to $849, $2604, and $4953 respectively.
This decrease follows almost three years of lobbying from past executives of the Post-Graduate Students’ Society (PGSS) via the Advisory Committee on International Students (ACIS). This lobbying was done in order to push the University to engage in a competitive bidding process (called a request for proposals (RFP)) for the international students’ health insurance plan.
However, the premium rates for private insurance plans for international students are still high, mostly due to the fact that international students are charged three times the rate of the Régie de l’assurance maladie du Québec (RAMQ), the Quebec government health insurance board, for the medical services they receive in a hospital.
Following the RFP process this spring, the University successfully negotiated a deal with the current insurance provider, Blue Cross, which had already been providing a health plan for international students for the past twenty years.
Director of International Student Services Pauline L’Ecuyer told The Daily, “It’s a two-year contract [with Blue Cross], and we’ll have to decide if we want to do another RFP in two years.”
The lobbying process for a more affordable healthcare plan for international students began in 2011. According to former PGSS Secretary-General Jonathan Mooney, the process required a great deal of effort on the part of the students to persuade the administration to take action.
“We brought up the issue in 2011. And then when we came back in 2012, we had even more arguments, because we listened to what [the University’s] concerns were, and why they thought maybe [doing an RFP] is not a good idea. We planned ahead, we talked to each other, and went in with strong arguments,” Mooney told The Daily.
Mooney admitted, however, that the lobbying process was long-winded. According to PGSS Health Commissioner Elizabeth Cawley, this is because ACIS meets only three or four times a year.
“At the first meeting you are told what international students pay versus Canadian residents. You go back, you think about it. Then, another meeting, you ask some questions about it. By the time you go, ‘Oh maybe we should do something about this,’ it’s the last meeting of the year,” Cawley explained.
“It requires students staying on these positions, asking the right questions, doing their research, talking to people. It does take time. I certainly wouldn’t say that the three years is a reflection of [the University’s] bad will. Not at all. When it came to the point when we had really decided this had to happen, they actually acted on their own,” she added.
According to PGSS External Affairs Officer Julien Ouellet, PGSS will now try to push further in order to have the provincial government allow international students to be covered under the RAMQ.
“We’ve been taking a few steps at the FEUQ [Fédération étudiante universitaire du Québec] to have a research project on the administrative obstacles faced by international students. […] And what we want [the provincial government] to do is basically provide a public option that [international students] would have to pay into, but, at the same time, since it’s the government […] it would be revenue-neutral,” said Ouellet in an interview with The Daily.
Mooney later emphasized the importance of students’ perseverance in pushing the administration to finally ensure accessible health insurance at McGill for international students.
“If student [representatives] didn’t bring this up over three years, it wouldn’t have happened. It required the consistent message from student representatives on the ACIS for this to happen. That being said, once the University got the message, they ran with it, and they delivered a great result to students,” Mooney said.