Seeking to start a dialogue with provincial leaders, U of T’s Graduate Students’ Union (GSU) has resurrected its decade-long campaign, OHIP for ALL. Launched just in time for Ontario’s provincial elections, the initiative seeks to reintegrate international students into the province’s health insurance plan (OHIP).
International students used to be covered under OHIP until they were excluded from the coverage in 1994 and forced to buy the compulsory University Health Insurance Plan (UHIP).
International student organizations have consistently tried to regain their coverage, only to be met with silence from the government.
This year, to extend its reach, the GSU has sent letters to each provincial party leader and to three Ontario ministers: Minister of Health Deb Matthews; Minister of Training, Colleges and Universities John Milloy; and Minister of Immigration Eric Hoskins.
“For the past years, nothing has changed. So this year we are trying to push a little more in order to get some traction … and finally set up a stakeholders’ meeting,” said GSU International Students’ Caucus chair Christopher Klinger, who mentioned that last year’s campaign only got them a teleconference with one of Matthews’ campaign officers.
The petition letters, signed by a number of U of T students and staff, outlined the reasons for GSU’s discontent with UHIP. Some of the most common complaints were: the small number of hospitals included in the Preferred Provider Network who accept UHIP; upfront out-of-pocket expenses; no access to information regarding claims approval and UHIP meeting minutes; and no student representation on the UHIP Steering Committee.
Counting on Ontario’s increasing dedication to the “internationalization of its education system and economy,” the student group hopes that this year’s campaign results will be different.
“Ontario is really keen on getting more students, so why not take the first step and reintegrate them back [into OHIP],” started Klinger. “Even the universities seem to support it. David Naylor is one of our supporters because he really wants international students to get reintegrated,” he continued.
But Milloy, the minister of Training, Colleges and Universities, explained that re-accommodation will further strain the government’s already empty pockets.
“At the moment, resources are very tight. We want to support our international students, we’re always looking at ways to do it, but I have to be very direct — we don’t have any plans of changing the present system currently,” said Milloy, listing government scholarships put in place to help international students financially.
Klinger admitted that most international students — aside from those who have secured jobs — do not pay any government taxes, but he justified that they are “healthy risks.”
“International students are not usually a bad risk. [They’re] mostly healthy people, very young, their costs cannot be that high … There’s actually a lot of screening on international students before they can actually go to Canada,” he clarified.
“We’re talking about roughly 26,000 people,” Klinger continued. “It can’t be such a huge impact [on] the system.”
Klinger points out that in 2007, Newfoundland and Labrador had already spearheaded the move to provide health coverage to international students.
But Milloy dismissed the argument: “I don’t know the specifics of the situation in Newfoundland, but I suspect that [they] have a very small number of international students.
In Ontario … we’re close to 40,000 international students, which I suspect … represents more than [their] entire post secondary population.”
Newfoundland is home to 27,000 post-secondary school students, 1,300 of which come from countries outside of Canada.
OHIP for ALL has garnered support from other unions, such as the Canadian Federation of Students, the OISE International Students’ Association, and CUPE Local 3907.