Editor’s Note: At the beginning of this academic year, the College Student Alliance (CSA) launched a study of how international students at Ontario colleges are covered – or not covered – by health insurance packages. It released its report on that subject in early-October, with these recommendations and conclusion.
(The College Student Alliance is a provincial advocacy and lobbying organization that represents the majority of college students in Ontario. St. Clair’s Student Representative Council and Thames Students Incorporated are CSA members.)
The full report can be obtained at https://www.collegestudentalliance.ca/research-papers-1.
STEPS TOWARD A HEALTHY ECONOMY
Adequate, accessible, and transparent health plans are imperative as it is the first health resource acquired by international college students upon arrival. International students require more assistance and effort from public and private sectors to receive health services. Community partnerships, increased funding, and systematic improvements can support international students in accessing suitable health services on and off campus.
Recommendation 1: Provincial government must establish an international student strategy that includes health coverage as a priority.
In Canada’s International Education Strategy, the federal government intends to increase international student enrolment to more than 450,000 students by 2022. CSA advises for the provincial government to establish an international student strategy, with health coverage as a priority, to be implemented by September 2019. Reducing systemic and cost barriers for international students will ensure the ability to focus on academics without the stress of confusing information and unsustainable costs. It will also support the health of international students who become permanent residents in Ontario.
Recommendation 2: Stakeholders must collaborate to streamline health information and claim procedures.
Colleges, student associations, and health plan providers must increase efforts to ensure information is easily accessible and consistent. Streamlining information so it is available at one location on campus and online will assist students finding required resources. Student health plan information must be provided prior to the first week of classes to better prepare students on submitting their claims and managing financials accordingly.
Recommendation 3: The province and institutions must invest in educational resources regarding Ontario’s health care system for international students.
Since international students must abide by provincial and federal conditions to maintain their citizenship, students must be provided with information regarding the Ontario health care system upon receiving their study permit. This can reduce health care confusion and enable students to understand where to seek assistance on and off campus.
Recommendation 4: Pilot an OHIP buy-in program whereby international students access OHIP through a reduced annual fee.
An OHIP buy-in program can streamline information and limit systemic barriers regarding coverage. Ideally, international students would be included in OHIP, without additional charges, when they begin at their college of choice. CSA realizes this would be beneficial for students, but is also aware the influx may provide challenges to Ontario’s health care system by increasing wait times and raising operational costs. By using a buy-in pilot program, the province can analyze data and make evidence-based decisions to offset the increased long-term cost of including international students into OHIP.
Recommendation 5: Provincial government, community partners and colleges must collaborate to increase the amount of community health centres available near postsecondary institutions.
Strategically placed and culturally inclusive community health centres in which students can receive information on health and citizenship will assist in servicing international students and nearby communities. An increase in community health centres may assist in the reduction of wait times in health clinics and post-secondary health facilities.
Ontario international students have yet to see a provincial strategy that supports international student well-being. An international student strategy should not focus solely on recruitment. An overarching international student strategy that encompasses a specific section on international student health is imperative. Striving for effective partnerships and increased investment in international student supports will benefit colleges and government in effectively recruiting students from across the globe in the short- and long-term. When students are unaware or misinformed about the provisions of their health plan and on-campus supports, services may be underutilized or avoided despite needs. This a risk to the student, and a potential further burden on our health care system and postsecondary institutions. Providing accessible, transparent, and cost-effective health care can limit financial burdens while encouraging students to be proactive with their health. A strategy that facilitates a successful transition into the economy, society, and health care system will entice students of all financial backgrounds to consider making Ontario their forever home. Ontario should not only be striving for a competitive economy, we should be working toward a healthier one as well.