Student unions write open letter to BC government on changes to MSP fee structure

As Medical Services Plan (MSP) premiums for international students increased on January 1, student unions across the province wrote an open letter to the BC Ministry of Health about the increased financial burden it could lead to.

On January 24, the Alliance of BC Students (ABCS) released an open letter to convey its concern about the financial strain that higher MSP premiums could cause for international students. Addressed to BC Minister of Health Adrian Dix, the letter asks the government to either rescind the changes made to the MSP payment structure or eliminate international student contributions entirely.

Ten student associations of universities across the province, including the AMS and Graduate Student Society (GSS) of UBC, signed the letter to represent a combined total of over 180,000 individuals.

In January 2018, the provincial government announced that it would change the MSP payment structure to ensure that international students could continue to receive health insurance.

Implemented since the beginning of 2020, the updated structure has eliminated MSP premiums for BC residents. Both BC residents and international students had previously paid MSP premiums to receive healthcare coverage, but the coverage rate for international students under the new payment structure has increased from $37.50 to $75 per month.

In discussing the changes, the BC Ministry of Health highlighted how they’ve provided international students with healthcare coverage for many years.

“For almost 30 years, BC has provided international students with provincial health coverage, while asking them to contribute a reasonable amount to help cover those costs. This updated payment method for international students continues that commitment,” said Dix in a written statement.

“It allows them to benefit from our public health-care system, remaining a fair system for everyone – now and into the future,” said Stephen May, a spokesperson for the Ministry of Health, in a written statement.

In the letter, the ABCS addressed the “rich international student” stereotype, pointing out that it is not an accurate representation of reality because international students come from various economic backgrounds and put plenty of time and effort into planning their budgets.

The letter further emphasizes the idea of equitable access to education for everyone in Canada, including the international students who make many sacrifices to have a quality education.

“This is a voice, basically, for international students ... they may not be able to predict how much their education will cost, and that’s not very fair,” said GSS VP External Sara Hosseinirad.

The ABCS wrote that if the provincial government had consulted student unions, advocacy groups, and, most importantly, international students prior to implementing the higher fees, the students being affected could have better prepared for the change in MSP payment structure.

The ABCS also sees the open letter to the Ministry of Health as the very first step of a process it plans to continue throughout the year and it intends to follow up the letter in the near future.

“We will be attempting to get a meeting with the Minister of Health,” said ABCS Director of Campaigns and Research Grace Dupasquier.

“We want the meeting to be between the international students and the Minister of Health so he can hear exactly what’s going on …. we think that this is important and we think that this should be given some attention.”