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The Student Federation of the University of Ottawa (SFUO) is asking students to raise health plan costs by $35 in a referendum, in order to keep the coverage afloat.

“Do you agree to increase the Health and Dental Plan levy by $35 and authorize the SFUO Board of Administration to increase the fee up to 8% per year to enhance benefits as needed?” reads the referendum question.

“The health care referendum is something we’ve been working on since we started our mandate,” said Roméo Ahimakin, the interim president and vice-president of services and communications.

“We, as the full executive team, we want to ensure that the health plan is run in an efficient way that students can keep benefitting from the same package.”

The plan currently costs $80 for health coverage and $100 for dental.  According to the SFUO website, the plans cover prescription medication, professional services, vision care, medical items, emergency transportation, travel insurance, and basic and comprehensive dental services.

“When this current price was set… they didn’t have a ‘to be raised with Consumer price index’ clause, so it stayed the same price for many years now,” said Veronica Carpani, an engineering student representative on the Board of Administration (BOA).

“The actual cost of the health plan to the SFUO has increased, so they have had to supplement it out of the general fund more and more,” she said. “So the $35 that they’re asking for is, right now, subsidized through the SFUO general fund, which isn’t really fair to students who don’t need a student health plan.”

“If it doesn’t pass the SFUO won’t be able to afford to continue to give the same level of health coverage that it does right now,” said Carpani, adding that antibiotics, anti-depressants, and birth control are the most commonly required prescriptions.

Ahimakin, who is also running in the election for the vice-president of communications position, did not wish to take a side in the referendum because of his work gathering information for it. “As an executive whose presenting the question… we don’t form an opinion on the referendum.”

However, previous SFUO executives have taken sides in past referendums. Former president Anne-Marie Roy supported the establishment of The University of Ottawa Student Emergency Response Team as an official SFUO service in a referendum last year.

Even with the $35 increase, U of O students would still have some of the cheapest health coverage in the country, according to Siavash Ghazvinian, a student who is part of the “Yes” committee. Students at Algoma, Brock, Lakehead, McMaster, OCAD, Queen’s, and Ryerson University all pay more than U of O students.

“We’ll be maintaining a health plan that people use and need, and students will still have the option to opt out,” he said. “Voting no would mean that we either eliminate the health plan or we’re gutting the health plan. We can’t keep the health plan we have now.”

“I just saw this need and I got involved because I saw that if we lose this health plan, it would affect so many people’s lives on this campus,” said Ghazvinian, who is also the president of the International Development and Globalization Student  Association, a member of the SFUO Finance committee, and a student who uses the health plan. “Often people don’t value the health plan enough, until they actually need it.”

“I haven’t talked to a single student who I’ve explained this to who said, ‘oh no I don’t support it because of this, this and that reason’ because it’s a pretty common sense basic idea,” said Ghazvinian.

The SFUO has changed the referendum question. It previously asked, “Do you agree to increase the Health and Dental Plan levy by $35, which includes an 8% mandatory retail sales tax, and authorize the SFUO Board of Administration to increase the fee up to 8% per year to enhance benefits as needed?” 

A previous edition of this article said that Siavash Ghazvinian is the president of the Science Students’ Association. He’s actually the president of the International Development and Globalization Student Association. We sincerely regret the error.