International students have one more fee to pay

ISES change international student’s health insurance plan

Gazette LogoInternational students at Dalhousie may be paying up more than ever as the result of a number of changes to the ISES health insurance plan opt-out.

International students from over 100 countries make up 10.5 per cent of Dal’s student population. As at any university, international students can expect to pay higher fees than if they attended an institution in their own country.

At Dal, the international students’ differential fee is  $7,260 per year. There are also a multitude of costs that international and exchange students encounter for a number of reasons, including visas, airfare and insurance.

On Aug. 17, the International Student and Exchange Services (ISES) at Dal notified the international student body of changes to their health insurance plan’s opt-out option. These changes mean that students who want to opt out of the annual $636 plan (additional to the $253 DSU Health & Dental Insurance, which all Dal students are automatically signed up for) must prove comprehensive coverage until Aug. 31, 2012.

For the students whose insurance plans’ renewal date falls before that date, there is only the option to opt out of the winter semester, saving $171 of the $636.

Benjamin Oliver, an international fourth-year student from New Hampshire, USA, has been using Nova Scotia’s Medical Services Insurance (MSI) for the last three years, instead of the international student’s insurance plan. “This year, the changes just made it really difficult for me to opt out of ISES’ health insurance program. I found I was going back and forth a lot to get the right paperwork,” he says.

A thread on the Dalhousie International Students’ Facebook page about the changes that have been made displays dozens of comments from students opposing the decision. For some, the process is simply more time-consuming; but for the others, the changes are prohibitive and leave students with no alternatives.

There is particular unrest amongst the students who already have health insurance, which is deemed insufficient by ISES, leaving them paying for multiple plans.

ISES recognizes the difficulty surrounding the issue. Pam Williams, manager of ISES, says, “Of all the international students, these changes affect a percentage. But to that percentage it is an extremely important issue. With these things there is no ‘one size fits all.’”

Every spring the insurance plan comes up for assessment and changes are made. Williams says the plan has been continuously modified over the years to accommodate three main principles: to make sure the university fulfils its responsibility in making sure that all students are comprehensively insured, to protect international and exchange students from extremely high costs that can be incurred in emergencies, and to maintain the stability of the plan as it is ISES that communicates directly with insurers in the case of claims.

ISES is currently talking to the DSU, Dalhousie International Students Association, and the students about the issue. “We are working together towards a solution that addresses concerns and we’re getting there,” says Williams. “We are open to suggestions and want to engage students in finding resolution on the matter.”

Despite the controversy, there are still many who appreciate the plan. Harriet Mills, a third-year exchange student from England, says, “I looked into other options but went with the one Dalhousie offered because it was the most straight-forward and covered everything.”

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