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UTSU, UTGSU propose new credit-based system for all major unions’ health care reimbursements

UTMSU, SCSU, APUS express opposition, OVPS reportedly desires unanimity for approval
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RYAN CHOW/THE VARSITY
RYAN CHOW/THE VARSITY

The five major student unions at U of T are divided about a new proposal to move all major unions’ health and dental refunds and reimbursements to a credit-based system. 

The plan was originally proposed by the University of Toronto Students’ Union (UTSU) and the University of Toronto Graduate Students’ Union (UTGSU) to the Office of the Vice-Provost Students (OVPS). Supporters argue that the plan will make it easier and more convenient for users to get their money back — especially as it would no longer require a Canadian bank account or address. 

The OVPS subsequently proposed the change to a number of student groups across U of T’s three campuses. This includes the three other major unions: the University of Toronto Mississauga Students’ Union (UTMSU), the Association of Part-time Undergraduate Students (APUS), and the Scarborough Campus Students’ Union (SCSU). According to the UTSU, the plan would most likely need unanimous support from all the unions to be implemented.

At a meeting that took place around the end of January regarding the proposal between representatives of the student unions and the OVPS, the three other unions opposed the change. Opponents cite concerns that the proposed system may add confusion, prevent direct reimbursement, and lacks adequate consultation.

Proposal to switch

The current system currently requires students to set up a Desjardins account with their direct deposit information to submit claims. It also requires students to obtain a Canadian bank account and have a Canadian address in order to receive their refunds. The new system would have refunds processed directly into students’ ACORN accounts rather than their bank accounts.

Students who wish to opt out of the health plan under the current system also have to have a Canadian bank account to which the funds can be wired.

In an email to The Varsity, UTSU Vice-President Operations Dermot O’Halloran expressed that the proposed credit-based system would “quite simply make it easier for students to get their money back from refunds and reimbursements.”

O’Halloran noted that many students do not have a Canadian residential address, so the current system may pose a barrier for those seeking refunds, especially during COVID-19. Specifically, O’Halloran wrote that international students may find the current system to be “a bit of a nightmare,” as it may be difficult to create a Canadian bank account, which prevents students from receiving refunds or even submitting claims in the first place.

“Hundreds of students cannot get reimbursed right now for seeking online mental health care from Canadian providers using our plan,” summarized O’Halloran.

The proposed system would also eliminate difficulties with the slow rate of data transfer between the University of Toronto and the two health brokers: Studentcare and Greenshield.

According to the UTSU, this proposed system is a “standard feature” at many Canadian postsecondary institutions.

“I was so frustrated that the other student unions working with Greenshield Canada dismissed the proposal so flippantly,” O’Halloran expressed. 

Opposing the proposal

Although the UTSU and UTGSU have shown support for the new system, the UTMSU, SCSU, and APUS have not.

In an email to The Varsity, UTMSU President Mitra Yakubi explained why she opposes the change. 

“Although the Proposed Credit System through ACORN may be enticing in the short-term, it may create a lot of confusion for students down the line,” she wrote.

Yakubi believes that, if not implemented correctly, opting out of the current health and dental plan and using another system would lead to longer wait times and cause distress for students. She wrote that the new opt-out system would “eliminate any and all forms of interactions that currently exist” within the current plan. The UTMSU also had concerns about the new system leading to less communication between students and the union. 

The UTMSU is also concerned about students who have outstanding funds on their ACORN accounts. Under the proposed system, the refund deposited into a student’s ACORN account would be applied to pay the remaining outstanding charges on their account, so the student would not directly receive the refund.

Yakubi raised an issue regarding this credit system, writing that the UTMSU is “unsure if these credited amounts will affect students and their [Ontario Student Assistance Program] amounts,” and that the union needs to further examine this issue.

The UTMSU also felt that the proposal was “rushed” and lacked adequate time consultations with members and affiliated groups to assess the proposed system.

Despite opposing the proposal of the credit-based health and dental system, the UTMSU is still open to exploring “other options to create a more efficient opt-out process in the future.”

In an email to The Varsity, Interim Executive Director of APUS Julian Oliveira wrote, “Without proper consultation and the time to discuss this matter with our membership, we cannot support the proposed credit system at this time.”

The APUS is still “looking into the possibilities of the proposal while taking the concerns of our sister unions UTMSU and SCSU very seriously.”

The SCSU did not respond to The Varsity’s request for comment. The Varsity has reached out to the UTGSU.