Eliminating MSP Premiums Could Lead to B.C. Subsidizing International Students’ Health-Care

The province could join New Brunswick and Saskatchewan in paying for the health-care of international students

Saskatchewan and New Brunswick both fully fund the healthcare of international students. (flickr/Philip Brewer)

In February of this year, the BC NDP announced that it would be eliminating Medical Service Plan premiums entirely, after cutting them by 50 per cent in January. By 2020, British Columbians will no longer have to pay the premium, which the government says could save individuals $900 and families up to $1,800 per year.

An article in the Richmond News suggests that the elimination of MSP premiums could mean that the health-care of international students’ would be subsidized for up to $100 million annually.

KSA Surrey Campus Representative Gurpreet Sabharwal says that a reduction or elimination in MSP premiums would greatly benefit international students, who already face high costs for studying in Canada.

“International students are always very tight in their budgets,” he says. “We have [to pay for] our books and our studies, and we live here in basements so it’s very hard for us to pay our bills and everything else.”

Sabharwal is an international student, and though he has not needed to rely on medical care in Canada, he says he knows of other students who worry about their health coverage. He argues that “medical care is like food, shelter—the basic needs.”

In addition to the high costs of studying abroad, international students in B.C. are restricted to working 20 hours per week, which can make covering the costs of living difficult.

“If the international students don’t have to pay for the MSP [premium] and they are covered as well, it’s nice,” he says. “From my point of view, safety is first, and if we have to pay we have to pay. But if they come up with something where citizens don’t have to pay and they include international students, that’s a very good thing.”

In an email statement to The Runner, KPU International Director of Global Engagement Deborah Carmichael wrote that international students are paying $201.30 per semester throughout the 2018-2019 year for temporary medical insurance coverage. That amount is in addition to the Kwantlen Student Association’s fees of $87.55 per year for the extended health plan and $113.30 per year for the dental plan, both of which students can opt out of if they already have MSP coverage.

“KPU International has a team of advisors and student life coordinators that are often the first point of contact for our international students when they require support,” said Carmichael. “The team is well equipped to ensure they are directed to the appropriate resources.”

Despite the article in the Richmond News, Ministry of Health spokesperson Laura Heinze said in a statement to The Runner that the government has not “made any specific changes at this time regarding international students and MSP.”

“The only change that we have made is the elimination of MSP premiums as a whole,” she said.

Revenue from the new Employer Health Tax is expected to cover the costs of eliminating MSP premiums, and cutting them is expected to save roughly $50 million annually, according to the NDP. Whether or not the provincial government is going to subsidize international students’ healthcare will remain unconfirmed until provincial budget details for 2020 are published.


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