Opinion: International Students and Health Insurance


Why the current system needs to change

International students studying at Nova Scotian universities are currently ineligible from receiving provincial health coverage. In a way, that makes perfect sense; often times they are not full time residents nor do they pay all the requisite taxes that permanent Nova Scotia residents would pay.
However, once one realizes all the additional costs international students pay to attend university as well as the economic opportunities they give their respective areas, health insurance seems like a fair commodity to offer them. 

Eight provinces currently offer healthcare to their international students; one of which is New Brunswick. In 2017, New Brunswick Post-Secondary Education Minister, Roger Melanson stated “International students make our campuses richer and more diverse, and we are proud today to extend health coverage to international students who are enrolled and pursuing studies in New Brunswick universities and colleges. This will help address additional out-of-pocket expenses international students face when studying in New Brunswick, make post-secondary education more accessible and affordable for them, and help us recruit more international students to our campuses.” 

In Nova Scotia, international students are required to purchase private insurance that covers their stay in province but only on a year-to-year basis requiring renewals each year. In a StFX-specific context that means purchasing the Students’ Union Health and Dental plan coverage through “Student Benefits.” This coverage is extremely costly, $1,085.00 to be exact. Keep in mind that this is on top of all other fees including Students' Union dues and the $16,168.00 international students pay for tuition. Ridiculous.

Most health care providers in Antigonish accept this insurance, however, the after hours clinic on Church Street does not, meaning international students must pay out of pocket every visit. Having provincial insurance would, of course, alleviate this problem. 

Clearly, as international students in Nova Scotia are financially burdened more than their domestic colleagues, being able to save $1,085.00 a year would make obtaining a Canadian education much more accessible as well as alleviate some of the financial pressure that international students contend with throughout the academic year. 

New Brunswick Health Minister Benoit Bourque stated “our government knows that the availability and delivery of health services have a significant impact on the quality of life of the people of our province, we are proud to be able to extend health-care coverage to international students and provide them with the same level of health care that their peers enjoy in Canada.” 

International students bring a lot to Nova Scotia, many have a desire to stay after graduation and economically as well as culturally contribute to the province. Yet, they are deterred from opportunities in Nova Scotia because of the lack of government health care. Provinces such as New Brunswick are a much more attractive option in that regard. 

Post secondary institutions in Nova Scotia and the province as a whole are losing out on lots of great talent, so something must be done. The lobbying organization, Students NS is advocating for MSI (Nova Scotia Health Card)  insurance for all full time international students immediately upon arrival; something that the StFX Students’ Union supports and a pillar of President Sirois’ campaign. 

This initiative still has a long way to go as the government may be reluctant to shell out the $452,440 a year to make it happen but that is chump change in comparison to the positive economic impact these students bring with them. 

All in all, I think it is completely fair to make the argument that Nova Scotia is behind the times. The province is not as competitive in attracting and retaining foreign students as others due to the lack of MSI coverage. The positive economic impact international students make far outweigh the debit that will be incurred. The current healthcare system is inequitable and inefficient, and it's time for a change.