The AMS said COVID-19 created a health & dental fee surplus. Now it has an extra $2 million.

The AMS has an extra $2 million to spend.

This extra money is a result of what was originally thought to be overcollection of student health insurance fees in the 2019/20 academic year — resulting in an extra $1.5 million — and a COVID-19-related bill reduction of $500,000, granted by the Pacific Blue Cross earlier this year. The AMS is now saying the extra money was not an overcollection but a result of lower usage rates due to COVID-19 creating a surplus.

Lucia Liang, the AMS VP finance, wrote that while the AMS’s auditing process revealed the additional funds, the society is changing its story now because it only just received its claims report in November. She added that the AMS has still not received the money in its account.

Last year, external consultants TRG Group recommended a 4.5 per cent increase of student Health & Dental fees for the 2019/20 academic year, an increase mainly due to mental health coverage that increased from $300 to $500 per student, according to Liang.

The AMS initially thought about giving the money straight back to students.

“But with the money collectively, you can do a lot of great services that can be offered to students and give the money to students who are in need,” Liang said. This option is not off the table, but the AMS said returning the money to those students would be difficult as many of them have graduated.

Students were split on this decision, with fourth year Trista Yuan saying it wouldn’t make sense to try to return it to students, and second year Katja Nell saying the AMS should try.

Outside of returning the money, the AMS is choosing between four proposals: a mental health subsidy, an MSP subsidy for international students, a proposal to cover the cost of free face masks and another to eliminate the increase in health and dental fees for next year.

The mental health subsidy would allow extra funding past the initial $500 for students who apply. This year would be a pilot year, and if it is well received by students, Liang said the AMS would explore continuing it.

As for the MSP subsidy, international students currently pay $75 a month for MSP, compared to no cost for domestic students. The subsidy could help international students in need pay for their health insurance; the first year being a pilot, with a potential of continuation.

The free face mask program would allow the AMS to make its mask mandate in the Nest easier to follow for all. Currently, the AMS sells face masks for 75¢, at cost. The society is exploring options to reduce this fee, or eliminate it altogether.

Yuan said the face mask program wouldn’t make sense, as many students already own reusable face masks. She advocated for the MSP subsidy.

“Some international students need [it] because not every international student is very rich. I’m struggling because I have four jobs ... if there’s extra support, obviously, I would really appreciate that,” she said.

Nell pushed for the mental health subsidy.

“My counsellor is $150 per 50-minute session, so I only have three and a third sessions covered by the insurance for the entire year, making it frustrating because I probably need counselling more often than I currently go, but I can’t because I don’t have enough coverage,” she said.

Nell expressed her disappointment with the AMS, calling the overcollection an example of “elitism” at UBC.

“The fact that this overcollection is being brushed off as a not-very-big deal by the AMS bothers me because although it may only be a few dollars per student that was overcollected, I know that a few dollars can be dinner for a night or two for some students barely managing to afford basic living expenses,” she said.

On November 18, the AMS sent out a survey to students that allows students to rank seven options on where to allocate the money. Neither refunding students directly nor free face masks were options in the survey. New options included a one-time increase in dental or vision coverage.

Liang said the society likely won’t have to choose just one option.

“I think it’s important for students to reach out if they have concerns … if there’s anything of these proposals someone is strongly against or strongly for,” Liang said. “I would encourage students to reach out.”