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Many international students not covered by SFUO health plan

Photo: Marta Kierkus

An incoming executive of the Student Federation of the University of Ottawa (SFUO) says she’s going to work to get health coverage for a group of students who are often neglected on the University of Ottawa campus.

“I feel like students generally aren’t aware of how inaccessible (the U of O) can be for international students,” said Taylor Davidson, next year’s vice-president of finance.

International students pay between $20,000 and $24,000 for a year of courses at the U of O.

And while the SFUO offers a health and dental plan for students, many international students aren’t covered.

“There are many international students who are part of the plan but for the most part are left out of the plan generally,” said Dave Eaton, current vice-president of finance of the SFUO.

Todisoa Audrey Paraina, a former campaigns coordinator for the International House, said “only a few international students are aware they have access to the SFUO health care plan in addition to the insurance provided by the International Office, as they think both plans are the same.”

Paraina also said more should be done to educate international students about their health plan, because “many students graduate without knowing they have certain services covered.”

Currently, whether an international student is covered under the SFUO’s health plan varies according to their country of origin. Those students who aren’t covered have to purchase private insurance or pay out of their own pocket.

The SFUO’s health plan costs $180 for health and dental insurance for full-time students, and $200 for part-time students. The plan covers prescription medication, professional services, vision care, medical items, emergency transportation, and travel insurance.

“If international students can’t access that plan, they would have to pay higher rates or receive lesser coverage with their own plan,” said Davidson, who added that international students already pay “inaccessible and unsustainable tuition fees.”

“They need to feel like the SFUO is fighting to improve their quality of life and access to education,” said Davidson.

She said she plans to meet with the health plan coordinator in the coming weeks to determine her course of action next year.

Eaton said the SFUO has been working with other student unions, and the Canadian Federation of Students (CFS) Ontario, to lobby the government to establish a health plan for international students.

CFS Ontario has an ongoing campaign to lobby the provincial government to expand Ontario Health Insurance (OHIP) to international students.

International students pay between $700 and $2,000 for the University Health Insurance plan, which isn’t universally accepted, according to the CFS.

Paraina said that during her time at the International House, they wanted to lobby to give international students access to OHIP.

“We had many formal and informal meetings with the SFUO campaigns department,” but the student federation wasn’t able to take on any new campaigns at the time because they were understaffed and had to provide “traditional” services like the international gala, she said.

“It’s not a local issue, it’s a provincial issue with allowing international students who come to Ontario to access health care,” said Eaton. “Being an international student is not just about coming to school. There’s a lot of other expenses that come with moving here.”