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Tribune Explains: Accessing healthcare as an international student

At the start of every academic year, the contract for the compulsory International Health Insurance (IHI) plan comes into effect for all registered international students at McGill. The McGill Tribune sought out common experiences among students to clarify the process of accessing healthcare as an international student in Montreal. 

What is the International Health Insurance program?

IHI is a private health insurance plan provided by Medavie Blue Cross through International Student Services (ISS). Enrolment is compulsory for international students, with an annual charge of $999 CAD automatically billed to the student’s Minerva account unless they apply for and are granted an exemption. Students may qualify for an exemption only if they are covered by a Canadian provincial healthcare program, such as Quebec Medicare (RAMQ), but not if they have another private insurance plan. 

Once paid for, the contract can be activated on Minerva as early as Aug. 1, and it is effective for the entire academic year. The plan consists of basic and supplementary health benefits. Basic health benefits include reimbursements for hospitalization, diagnostic tests, and physician fees. Supplementary health benefits cover services such as vaccinations, physiotherapy, psychotherapy, and prescription drugs and medicines.

International students are also eligible for dental coverage, provided by Desjardins, through the Students’ Society of McGill University (SSMU). Those attending classes at the Macdonald campus qualify for the Macdonald Campus Students’ Society (MCSS) health and dental plans

Where should you go if you have specific questions about the IHI policy?

The McGill International Health Insurance Handbook details the coverage IHI plan-holders are entitled to. Confusion surrounding the plan, however, has spurred an active student discussion forum, with at least 20 related posts on the McGill Reddit in 2022 alone.

Isadora Borges, a PhD student in the Faculty of Arts with over five years of experience navigating the IHI policy, told the //Tribune// that she would direct all those unfamiliar with further questions to Blue Cross itself, reachable at 1-888-588-1212 between 8 a.m. and 9 p.m. from Monday to Friday. 

“We’re paying this big fund to Blue Cross, but we [students] do a lot of free labour online answering a lot of posts that I feel are very banal questions that can be easily Googled, or very specific questions that medical professionals are better equipped to answer,” Borges said. “[The Blue Cross] are the ones with access to your healthcare file [….]. In the end, medical advice should not be crowd-sourced.”

How can you access health services off-campus?

International students are generally advised by the Wellness Hub and peers to take advantage of the coverage offered by off-campus clinics. Students can use Maple virtual care to consult doctors online as well.

“The Wellness Hub has an off-campus care directory for student-friendly clinics, which is a good place to start,” Stella DiCicco, U1 Arts, said in an interview with the //Tribune//. “It is important to call ahead [though] because [the directory] is outdated.”

For mental health treatment, McGill students have 24-hour access to keep.meSAFE, a counselling service that can be reached through the My SSP app. General practitioners at the Wellness Hub, Maple, or other off-campus clinics can provide the referrals required to see a psychiatrist. The cost of a diagnosis is fully covered by IHI up to three times the RAMQ Schedule of Fees. Psychiatry treatment fees will be reimbursed up to $5,000 per contract year. Prescription drugs and medicines are reimbursed up to 80 per cent with no maximum. While the McGill University Health Centre (MUHC) and Maple can bill Blue Cross directly, most other off-campus health services will require that students pay up-front. After doing so, students can use the receipts to file an insurance claim with Medavie Blue Cross to get reimbursed.

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