CBU, a hub for international students, has become a hotbed of discontent. A sudden and steep increase in medical insurance fees, from $744 to $1283 annually, has left students feeling angry; frustrated; and powerless.
In addition to the insurance fee increase, students recently learned that those with provincial MSI coverage cannot opt out of the expensive program. This sparked outrage among students, leading to online protests and campaigns, and it appears that the question on everyone's lips is "GuardME, Guard Who?"
One of the most contentious aspects of this insurance scheme is the inability for students to opt-out, even when they possess alternate coverage. This predicament arises from the university's partnership with GuardME, the insurance provider, which insists that students have coverage until August 31, 2024.
For the students, the issue is more than financial. The increase, they say, was imposed without prior notice or discussion. It’s about fairness, flexibility, and collaboration in shaping policies that impact their lives.
International students have a different insurance provider than Canadian students attending the university. For students who cannot access their parents’ insurance plan, the CBU students’ union provides medical and dental insurance for domestic students for $295 annually.
Students were eager to talk about the insurance increases to The Third, but none were comfortable with their names being used for this story.
According to J, a CBU Student, the absurdity of this requirement becomes strikingly evident when we consider that some students will complete their studies and leave CBU this December. J notes that students are being forced to pay for insurance coverage that extends far beyond their academic tenure, effectively paying for something they will never use.
Anonymously speaking to us, one student (referred to as "AK") questioned the silence of the CBU Students' Union, which appears conspicuously inactive in addressing this issue. AK suspects that the university administration and the Students' Union might be collaborating to delay students' attempts to rectify this issue until it's too late to opt-out.
Levin George Alex, a former Chief Editor for the Caper Times, the CBU student newspaper, shared his experience from last year when he tried to opt out due to having MSI coverage. He was denied the opportunity, even though his MSI coverage had lapsed only a couple of days before the deadline. "I reached out to CBU, who said it's GuardME's policy. I reached out to GuardME, and they said it's CBU's policy," Alex said. "CBU Students' Union touted the benefits of this insurance scheme but failed to help students facing real issues."
So, what do the students want? According to AP, another CBU student, "We want to have a say in policies that affect us. This is my second year here, and I finish school in December. I don't see the logic in paying for an entire year if I don't even plan on staying in the country after my graduation,” said AP. “The easiest choice is to amend the policies and make the insurance from term to term. No matter how you look at it, it is the best possible option, unless, of course, all you want is to make money by taking advantage of international students."
The students want a fair, flexible, and student-centric insurance scheme that respects their diverse needs and reflects their time spent studying at the university. This issue is not about rebelling against insurance itself, but rather ensuring that international students are not unfairly burdened by an insurance scheme that fails to adapt to their circumstances.
While MSI holders are not able to opt out of the insurance plan, some students who have employer insurance were able to opt out. Unfortunately, few students are in this position as most employers don’t provide insurance coverage for temporary part-time employees.
As the "GuardME, Guard Who?" insurance saga escalates, CBU's reputation as a welcoming and student-centred institution hangs in the balance. The insurance scheme stands as a stark example of how policies can inadvertently marginalize and exploit the very individuals they are meant to serve.
The CBU-GuardME partnership has a normally docile student body ready to take on their university and their medical insurance provider. They want accountability from both and seem prepared to do what it takes to get the answers. They want the university to justify these increases and work with them to solve the prohibitive but mandatory insurance plan.