The Ford government’s changes to OHIP and introduction of the Student Choice Initiative (SCI) have brought a number of pressing issues, including access to health care for university students. The University of Toronto Students’ Union’s (UTSU) health care plan is bearing the brunt of the damage.
The UTSU health care plan is meant to fill gaps in other coverage students may have, including OHIP. However, Ford’s cuts to OHIP have made covering all gaps unfeasible, prompting major shifts in the UTSU Health and Dental Plan.
The UTSU’s coverage for prescription drug costs has been reduced from 90 per cent to 80 per cent of the cost of each prescription, up to $5,000. This applies not only to drug prescriptions, but also to vaccines — which have been fully covered to a maximum of $200 in past years.
Mental health services have also been affected: as opposed to providing $125 per visit for up to 20 visits, the new health care plan only covers $100 per visit for up to 15 visits. It’s important to note is that unlike prescription drug care coverage, mental health funding is being capped by both cost and number of visits.
In an attempt to offset these cuts, the UTSU has implemented coverage for visits to registered psychotherapists, in addition to visits to standard psychologists, clinical counsellors, and licensed social workers. This change may seem minute, but it will go a long way to help students.
What is most worrisome about the UTSU’s changes is not its immediate effects but rather its implications for U of T students. In the statement that the UTSU released regarding changes to the health and dental plan, the union acknowledges that there is a mental health crisis at the university.
Mental health is a high priority for the UTSU: in a statement following a student’s death in September, it committed to continue to place its “resources behind addressing the mental health crisis.” Even though it must contend with Ford’s difficult cuts, it should put all its efforts into tackling this crisis. In terms of policy, this means collecting as many resources as possible.
At the UTSU Board of Directors Meeting in late August, Studentcare, the health and dental care provider of the UTSU, sent a message noting that “a lower claims trend was had for mental health coverage in comparison to other parts of the plan.”
In response to this, the UTSU decided to concentrate more on other areas of health coverage, as mental health seemed to be of lesser concern. This projection was also based on the fact that the UTSU would no longer be covering students at UTM, meaning that fewer resources would be needed. However, these predictions do not necessarily translate as facts, meaning that the students at UTSG may be left without sufficient access to resources.
The UTSU is cognizant of this and is taking active measures to improve health care coverage for the following school year. UTSU President Joshua Bowman explained that the executive team is working on restructuring the Student Aid program to “bridge the financial gap in coverage.”
The UTSU hopes to establish a referendum which would allow for students to re-appraise the cost of the plan and possibly charge students more in certain areas and less in others, depending on their needs. These changes would aim to both meet the individual needs of the student while accommodating for financial barriers.
Of course, the UTSU is only a student governing body, and as such, some changes are beyond its reach. The greatest barriers to equitable access to health care are Ford’s changes to OHIP and implementation of the SCI. The true arbiters of change are the members of the Legislative Assembly of Ontario.
Just as they were the ones who created these barriers, they are the ones who can break them down. And in light of the mental health crisis, these policies are only driving us further away from the help we need and straight into the arms of physical, emotional, and financial instability.
The Ford government must recognize the harm that is already stemming from these dangerous policies and do everything it can to mitigate this harm and reverse it. Otherwise, it will only be a matter of time until Ford bursts our bubble.
Yana Sadeghi is a first-year Social Sciences student at New College.