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International student medicare coverage launched later than anticipated

This month,  the Department of Post-Secondary Education, Training and Labour (PETL) held a press release at Universite de Moncton to announce that international students are now eligible for Medicare coverage.

According to New Brunswick Student Alliance (NBSA) executive director Robert Burroughs, this was originally scheduled to be implemented prior to the new academic year.

“In February, the premier announced that the government would be offering basic medicare coverage to international students as of Sept. 1,” said Burroughs.

According to the Department of Post-Secondary Education Training and Labour, there were several reasons for the delay.

“The Department of Health had to consult with various stakeholders to ensure optimal program design. Revisions were also needed to Regulation 84-20 under the Medical Services Payment Act,” said Bonnie Doyle, media contact for PETL.

International students have been able to apply for the program for quite some time now, but the government was not able to process applications prior to their recent announcement.

According to Burroughs, international student advisors on the various university campuses have been notified of the new program and are encouraged to help guide students through the process.

“We’ve had tons of different posters, we’ve had info sessions, we’ve literally told international students both at Orientation and every single time we were able to during the Orientation and now that you can come in,” explained Kalu Ogbogu, peer advisor at UNB’s International Student Advisor’s Office.

Despite their efforts, Ogbogu conceded that they may not have reached everyone.  “We need to remember that for Orientation, mostly new international students are the ones coming in, but I did see a good number of old international students.”

However, despite the greater number of new international students going to the ISAO for assistance with their application, they may be waiting longer for approval because the Medicare program’s eligibility criteria stipulates that students must prove three month’s residency in the province.

According to Doyle, this is a requirement all newcomers are required to fulfill—not just international students.

“This requirement is to ensure that the students and their dependents intend to make New Brunswick their home throughout the student’s educational period,” said Doyle.

Burroughs is excited about what the recent announcement may mean in terms of attracting new international students to New Brunswick universities and retaining them after graduation.

“We anticipate that this could have a tremendous impact in terms of the quality of life and quality of education of international students here in New Brunswick, but also in terms of retention rates. It now puts us on a level playing field in terms of recruitment with Nova Scotia and Newfoundland and Labrador,” Burroughs said.

While international students await the approval of their Medicare applications, UNB is offering a temporary health insurance called “Guard Me,” which Ogbogu says is mandatory unless students can provide evidence of their Medicare coverage.

While this offer is “pretty sweet” according to Ogbogu, he encourages students to fill out their Medicare application as soon as possible to avoid incurring additional costs by the purchase of UNB’s Guard Me for next semester—if that remains an option.  

“The more time you delay, the longer it takes you to get it. And if it’s cutting into like next semester then that’s more money you don’t really have to pay. I have no clue [if Guard Me will be available next semester as well]—but from what I’ve understood, if the students need it, if there’s that gap… It might be a bit expensive, but [the university] will provide it.”

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