Updated MSP payment structure increases healthcare costs for international students

As the provincial government plans to eliminate Medical Service Plan (MSP) premiums for BC residents by next year an updated payment structure will be implemented for international students to ensure they still receive coverage under MSP.

Previously, both international students and BC residents paid mandatory MSP premiums to maintain healthcare coverage. In January 2018, the provincial government announced their plan to eliminate MSP premiums for BC residents, resulting in one of the largest tax cuts in recent history. But the coverage rate for international students will rise to $75 starting January 1, 2020.

Dr. Jason Sutherland, a professor at the UBC Centre for Health Services and Policy Research, explained that under the previous payment structure both international students and BC residents paid approximately $37.50 for MSP premiums to access healthcare coverage.

International students are eligible for MSP coverage after three months of residence in Canada, but they can receive coverage from temporary insurance, such as iMED during the three-month waiting period.

“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,” said BC Minister of Health Adrian Dix in a press release. “This updated payment method for international students continues that commitment.”

“$37.50 might not sound like a lot, but I think for people with a low amount of resources, they will be particularly vulnerable to that pay tax increase,” said Sutherland. “For students who are struggling to make their tuition payments, this might [be] another harsh demand on them.”

Kavana Ramesh, a fifth-year international student at UBC, voiced concerns about the increased payment structure.

“It’s double. If you are budgeting and living month to month, can you afford double?” she said.

“When you’re an international student that doesn’t mean you’re rich. For example, since I am from the States, UBC was actually more affordable than paying in-state tuition in my state.”

Ramesh also noted that many students are on scholarships, and are not actually paying in full for their tuition.

“I know so many international students [whose] families have used all their savings to invest in their children so they have more opportunity than them. Some students I know are funded by their own country so they can return and work in their country,” she said.

Although the MSP increase is significant for some international students, the change still ensures international students receive healthcare coverage.

Ramesh explained that in the US, healthcare coverage is so expensive that many people may have incomplete coverage or no coverage at all.

“My mentality is almost always, ‘Avoid going to the doctor.’ I will only go if it’s a last resort because I’m so used to feeling stressed about what might be covered,” she said. “I have noticed people here tend to be a lot freer about going to see doctors.”