The Dalhousie Student Union (DSU) has voted to slightly raise the cost of the DSU health and dental plan in an attempt to ensure students don’t receive an unmanageable fee increase in the near future, according to union President Maddie Stinson.
The single student and family plan fee for domestic students will increase by $4.64 to $468.64. The single student fee for international students will increase by $12.74 to $740.74 and the family fee by $19.32 to $1,123.32. The fee increases will take effect in September 2021 for the next academic year.
According to Stinson, the increases are being made because students are making more claims than the insurance provider allows. By adapting the health plan with small increases such as the ones recently voted through, the DSU hopes to avoid making the large increases necessary in the past. For example, in 2018 the DSU increased the cost of the domestic plan by $180.
“We no longer want to be in a situation where we have to make $100 or $200 increases to this fee because that’s something that can’t be very easily absorbed by a student’s finances,” Stinson said in an interview with the Dalhousie Gazette. “But an increase of a few dollars every year, or every other year, offsets the increasing expenses of the plan.”
Why the increases are necessary
The increases will allow the DSU to continue providing subsidized healthcare to students who need it the most. But it will also ensure other union services aren’t at risk of having their funding affected at expense of the health plan, according to Isa Wright, DSU vice-president (operations).
Without increases to the plan, any claims made that exceed what’s currently allowed by the insurance company must be covered by the DSU, Wright said.
Any of these claims the DSU becomes responsible for are covered by the health plan reserves, Wright said. These reserves are a collection of funds created more than a decade ago when the DSU profited from the health plan.
According to Wright, if the claims were to exceed the reserves or completely deplete them, the money would have to come out of the DSU’s operating budget.
Due to the pandemic, and its effect on the physical and mental health of Dalhousie students, Wright is concerned the number of claims will only rise, therefore putting more stress on the reserve funds and more risk on the operating budget.
“We’re preventing claims for individual students from being taken out of our operating budget, which is really paid into by all students and meant to serve a very different purpose from the health plan,” Wright said.
As this is only a small increase to adjust for claims made over the past year of coverage, Wright said it is impossible to say whether a similar increase will be needed next year.
Wright said the DSU will review the plan with its provider, the insurer StudentVIP, at the end of next year. This will provide the DSU with insight into how fees need to be changed and how the health plan can be adapted to better suit the claims being made within it.
“Prompting that review each year is really the most responsible thing that we can be doing to ensure that not only is the plan fiscally sustainable, but also ensuring that it’s still relevant and helpful to students,” Wright said.
Confusion at council surrounding motion
When the motion to increase the cost of the student health plan was originally tabled at a DSU council meeting on Feb. 25, 2021, the motion failed to be voted through. It later succeeded on March 10 as an e-motion, a motion distributed via email that allowed councillors 48 hours to vote.
Initially the motion failed due to a lack of context after Aparna Mohan, one of the union’s board of governors representatives, asked to see some information supporting the motion prior to making a vote, especially before increasing a fee for international students, she said at the meeting.
This information was not immediately available as Wright, the executive member who could have provided the most context, was absent due to illness.
The contextualizing information was provided to councillors through email after the meeting, said Stinson. The motion then passed unanimously, she said.
After learning the increase was to prevent larger increases in the future, Mohan voted for the motion.
“Ensuring that there aren’t any interruptions to international students and any students’ coverages is very important,” Mohan said in an interview with the Gazette, though she said she would have liked to see some discussion around who else could have covered the cost other than students.
There was also confusion at the meeting as to why the increases had to be voted on now if they won’t be affecting students until September, a question raised at the meeting by Fatima Beydoun, the DSU’s other board of governors representative.
According to Wright, the DSU council had to approve the increases this month because they are only one step in a series of approvals before the increases actually take effect.
The increases will now be approved internally by Dal before being presented to the university’s board of governors for final approval, Wright said.
Though more approval is necessary, Wright said the increase in price won’t change at all. The university simply needs to verify the DSU followed the proper procedure in determining the increases.