TSSU files grievance over international student health plan


SFU’s Teaching Support Staff Union (TSSU) has filed a grievance against the university based on the claim that SFU is exploiting its international students by imposing an over-costly mandatory health plan.

TSSU spokesperson Melissa Roth stated at a recent town hall meeting on August 29 held by the SFSS that the mandatory health plan is “just one example of how international students are being gouged. [. . .] [The TSSU] would like to be in a coalition with any group that is against this gouging and using international students, frankly, as a cash cow.”

All international students are automatically enrolled in the plan, which costs $336 for the semester. This is more than double the price of the previous plan — which cost $126 — as well as that of plans offered at several local universities.

The provider, Guard.me, was chosen out of a number of bids from cheaper alternatives; the plan itself is the most expensive of the proposed options. It also pays five per cent of each student’s fee back to SFU. “They’re using it to fund the basic budget at SFU,” said Roth.

This coverage is required for students who have lived in BC for less than three months, after which time they are considered a BC resident and may apply to be covered by the BC Medical Services Plan. All residents are legally obligated to enroll in the MSP, which covers all medically required services.

Members of the TSSU can have their MSP premiums covered by the university, and are also eligible to receive 50 per cent of the Guard.me fee back. However, the union is filing a grievance with SFU not only for the increase in fees, but because employees have allegedly only been receiving 25 per cent of the promised 50.

Once an international student can prove they have alternative coverage, such as MSP, they have the choice to opt out of Guard.me — nevertheless, Roth describes doing so as a “complex process.”

The TSSU has also taken issue with the fact that students who have proven alternative coverage are re-enrolled in the plan automatically the following semester. They pointed to the University of Fraser Valley’s model in which coverage is automatically converted to MSP.

TSSU member Derek Sahota told The Peak that when they met with university administration, “[The administration] said some things we found really offensive.”

The university has issued the following statement from associate VP of students, Tim Rahilly, but declined to comment further: “International students are required to carry basic medical insurance, but [. . .] we discovered many of them did not purchase coverage. We have a duty of care for our students and believe that providing a mandatory medical insurance plan for all international students is the best way to ensure their well-being.

“The welfare of our students is an important issue and something we will further discuss with the TSSU at arbitration meetings scheduled in December.”

The TSSU will officially challenge the administration in these meetings on December 4 and 5. They will request that all members be refunded the additional alleged 25 per cent withheld by the university and, while it is not a part of the grievance, the TSSU proposes that SFU reconsider the whole process once the contract with Guard.me is up at the end of 2015.