AMS, GSS increase mental health coverage for student healthcare plan

Starting September 1, students will have $500 of mental health care coverage — up from the current $300 allowance — under the AMS and Graduate Student Society (GSS) Health and Dental Plan.

AMS Council voted in favour of increasing the plan’s current $244.69 fee by 5 per cent to accommodate this increase at its February 27 meeting, and the GSS officially approved the motion on March 21.

Previously, students could get up to $300 reimbursed for mental health care per year, including psychiatry, registered counselling and psychology. The BC Association of Clinical Counsellors cites $120 per hour of counselling as standard in the province, with psychology and psychiatry often costing up to $200 per hour.

AMS VP Finance Kuol Akuechbeny said the fact that around 540 new students sought mental health support through the plan last year was a main reason the AMS sought to renegotiate the plan with StudentCare, the insurance company.

“That was actually a big number,” said Akuechbeny. “If you see that number of people looking for that support, it doesn’t only affect them, but the people around them.”

Accessing timely and affordable mental health support has long been a struggle for many students at UBC. Wait times at free clinics, such as UBC Counselling Service, are often months-long, and outside options are not always affordable for students on a budget. Other services like the hotline EmpowerMe — where students can access up to seven counselling sessions for free through the AMS’s plan — may not be able to deal with more severe mental health problems.

Beyond the increase in coverage, the AMS is working to expand the network of mental health care providers who can directly bill the insurance plan so students don’t have to front the cost themselves and wait to get reimbursed.

“The good part about it is when you go to the office, you don't have to pay yourself and then get the money,” said Akuechbeny, noting that not all care providers are connected but it is an ongoing process.

“That's where we hope to make sure that everybody would be able to access those services without having to pay their own money.”

He stressed that this change does not impact other coverage under the plan and is only one step towards making mental health care more accessible to UBC students.

“[The increase] doesn’t impact other parts of the plan and it is sustainable moving forward,” said Akuechbeny. “It is the maximum that we can do now. But I think we can ... try to improve on it and see how to better increase it in the future.”