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PGSS succeeds in lobbying for lower international health care rates

All international students at McGill insured with Blue Cross, a Canadian health insurance provider, will now have lower health-care rates following three years of lobbying by the Post-Graduate Students’ Society (PGSS) of McGill to the university.

Beginning in 2011, the PGSS lobbied the university to begin a competitive bidding process for alternate healthcare options, known as a request for proposals (RFP). The project was led in part by Jonathan Mooney, former secretary-general of PGSS, and PGSS Health Commissioner Elizabeth Crawley.

“To negotiate the drop in prices, McGill announced publicly that they were seeking multiple proposals from different insurance companies for the international student insurance plan,” Mooney explained. “As a result, the companies, knowing that they were facing competition, offered the best possible price for the plan.”

The immediate outcome of the RFP included lowered rates across the board, with decreases of $101 per year for individuals, $312 per year for individuals with dependents, and $549 per year for individuals with families. 

“This has impacted every international student in a positive way in that they pay less for the same service,” Crawley claimed. “As a student executive and health advocate, that outcome is a big win.”

PGSS was able to work directly with McGill via the Advisory Committee on International Students (ACIS). Early into the process, the university expressed fears that Blue Cross would make a worse offer due to the added work involved in an RFP, as the process requires the company to not only negotiate prices but also provide corporate, financial, and product information. However at the April 2013 meeting, Director of International Students Services Pauline L’Écuyer formally approved the RFP after listening to student arguments in support of it. In January, Vice-Principal (Administration and Finance) Michael Di Grappa formally approved the extended use of the RFP.

Mooney expanded upon the reasoning for the continued use of the RFP and the long-term goals of the policy.

“Through the RFP, McGill was able to obtain a better rate on the premium paid by international students at McGill,” he said. “In addition, McGill put in place a system to ensure that every few years the contract for the plan would be bid on by multiple insurance companies to ensure that the premiums paid by students stay low.”

International students currently pay three times more for health care than those covered under the Régie de L’assurance Maladie (RAMQ), which offers annual premiums ranging from no charge to $611. Ana Best, an international PhD student in the Department of Math and Statistics at McGill, expressed her view on the high rates of international healthcare rates.

“While it’s fair that international students pay for their insurance, it’s unfair that they are charged three times the RAMQ rate for hospital treatment and are not treated in any medical facilities that are RAMQ only,” Best said. “These things really make illness and healthcare a hardship for international students at McGill, and both would be solved by allowing international students to pay into a RAMQ public option.”

PGSS will continue working with McGill to negotiate lower health-care rates through the RFP, according to Mooney, who highlighted Di Grappa’s formal agreement to continue working with the RFP. Best praised the efforts of the PGSS executives in successfully lobbying McGill for the reduced healthcare charges.

“The past [executive] teams at the PGSS have done a great job in pushing for improved health care for international students, and the current execs are pushing even harder to make [it] a reality,” Best stated. “It’s also great that McGill itself has been on board with pushing for change and improving the lives of international students.”

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