Student body says Quebec government discriminates against international students

Case of Senegal student handed $100,000 medical bill after giving birth provokes calls for change

Student body says Quebec government discriminates against international students
A Quebec student organisation has called on the provincial government to end “discrimination” against international students when it comes to healthcare.

The Association for the Voice of Education in Québec (AVEC) has highlighted the case of Senegal national and student of L'université du Québec à Chicoutimi (UQAC) Awa Cheik Diop, who was handed a $100,000 medical bill shortly after giving birth in the province in 2015.

Diop had insurance coverage, which was part of her university enrollment fees, but her provider, Desjardins, denied her claim, stating that the plan was void as the UQAC student had become pregnant in Senegal before arriving in Canada.

Her story was featured on Radio Canada show La Facture last year, and since then AVEC and the Mouvement des associations générales étudiantes de l’Université du Québec à Chicoutimi (MAGE-UQAC) have campaigned to change the insurance rules governing international students.

Christopher Gyorffy is general coordinator with AVEQ and a strong advocate for change when it comes to international students’ healthcare.  He explains the flaws in the system that allow situations like what transpired with Diop to happen.

“The universities will negotiate coverage with the insurance companies,” he says. “You receive your coverage when you pay your fees to the university, it is not something you can choose. You can’t pick which policy you would like.”

Aside from choice being taken out of the hands of the students, they are also left in the dark about the terms of their policies. This is exactly what happened in the case of Diop, who thought she was covered by her plan to give birth in the province.

“The issue is not that she became pregnant in Senegal, the issue is that there is a systemic problem that is not being treated correctly, and is not being addressed by the government,” says Gyorffy.
In terms of finding a solution, AVEC is clear on what it wants to happen.

“We want international students to be granted the same rights as all other students,” he says. “Through student unions negotiating, it will mean premiums not going up because there will be competition. Student unions know the issues affecting students, not university administration departments.”

Having adequate health insurance is even more critical for international students are they are not covered under the provincial RAMQ plan. This system isn’t replicated in other parts of Canada, however, and Gyorffy is hoping Quebec can follow the lead of some of the other provinces on this issue.

“What we are proposing is the same kind of coverage that already exists in Alberta, Saskatchewan, Manitoba and Newfoundland,” he says. “There the province offers public insurance to students and student unions have negotiating power with insurance companies.”

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