Manitoba seeks to scrap universal healthcare for international students
Since the launch of Universal Health Care in Manitoba in 2012, put through by the previous NDP Government, international post-secondary students have gained access to healthcare coverage, driving new and upcoming talent to the Canadian province, being one of the few to offer this service.
However, this is set to be disrupted. Presently under review by the Progessive Conservative government, the Manitoba government are discussing removing universal healthcare for international students in a bid to save CA$3mn.
At present, any student with a study permit who has resided in Canada for over six months can gain access to a Manitoba Health Card, granting international students and their dependents access to essential healthcare.
Former international student, Dele Ojewole has condemned the move. Whilst he was a student in 2010, he was prevented from visiting a doctor due to escalating healthcare costs.
Whilst he has become a citizen of Canada and is now interim chairperson of the Manitoba Chapter of the Canadian Federation of Students, he explained to CBC News: “Right now we know that international students are already paying triple the tuition, so however the government is trying to charge them for healthcare coverage, it’s something that we think is harsh, it’s something that we think is inhumane and it’s something we hope the government will take a step back on.”
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“International students might be paying around CA$450 to see a doctor, which is something that domestic students would find very, very exorbitant. It’s something that will drive students out of this province,” he added.
NDP Opposition Leader Wab Kinew has also voiced strong views on the Government’s plans to revert back to a private healthcare model, where international students resume responsibility for healthcare costs, and children up to high school age will also suffer from the move.
"This is also going to apply to children. It strikes me as deeply unfair."
However, Minister of Education and Training, Ian Wishart remains keen to push through with the move, and has stated that Manitoba still houses a strong reputation within education and houses some of the lowest tuition fees across Canada.
Nonetheless, last year the Government scrapped its cap on tuition fees, something which will severely impact the entire education sector in the province.
How health plans can reduce healthcare inequalities
The COVID-19 pandemic has put inequalities accessing the healthcare system in the spotlight. Jim Clement, Vice President of Product & Services at cloud provider Inovalon, tells us that health plans play the most integral role in advancing the health equity movement.
Why did it a global pandemic to highlight the issue of healthcare inequities?
Health inequity in the US has been well understood by healthcare professionals for many years, but it has become more evident due to the COVID-19 pandemic. It wasn’t until the racial and ethnic differential seen in response to COVID-19 related infections, deaths and vaccinations that many Americans became acutely aware of the health inequity due to sociodemographic factors such as race, geography, education and income.
Fortunately, there’s now a growing health equity movement afoot in America which aims to improve public health and achieve equity in health status for all people by ensuring opportunities are available to attain the highest level of health. While the entire healthcare ecosystem is important to this transformation, it is health plans that arguably play the most integral role.
How can health plans help?
Achieving health equity means obstacles to health must be removed, including poverty, discrimination, powerlessness, and lack of access to the basics like physicians, hospitals, medicine, technology, and health education. This is not only a social justice initiative, but also a clear call to action for health plan organisations that are bearing the economic brunt of the costs due to health disparities.
Health plan organisations that recognise the alignment between efforts to improve health equity and broader member engagement initiatives will be in the best position to move the needle. Plans must also understand that the provision of medical services within hospital walls, physician offices and other health services providers is necessary, but not sufficient.
By recognising that health inequity also includes non-medical factors such as employment, income, housing, transportation, childcare, and more, plans will be better equipped to ensure their members are set up for success.
What do healthcare providers need to do generally to address inequities?
Outreach by both health plans and providers is critical to ensuring people have knowledge of available services, the reason those services are critical to their health, and options to access those services based on their unique circumstances. With both stakeholders beating the same drum, progress can be made quickly.
Given the impact of social determinants of health (SDOH), should healthcare providers take a more active role in addressing these, or other agencies?
While communicating with patients is critically important, what is truly required to address inequalities is helping patients take medical actions – like regular PCP visits, monitoring A1C and accepting health coaching – that are necessary to maximise their health, along with non-medical actions –like availing themselves of community resources that address homelessness, food insecurity and employment services.
The most progressive providers and payers have or are putting in place programs to address these non-medical issues. In addition, non-medical tools such as transportation services can certainly help drive the effectiveness of medical services.
How important is it to educate patients about their health and how can this be done?
Education is a social determinant of health and a key lever to be used to drive health equity. Patients who do not understand their medical conditions or the consequences of non-compliance with their treatment plans are prone to poor outcomes.
For health plans, understanding member needs is one of the biggest drivers of quality care. A continuous cycle of engagement through feedback and appropriate responses will provide health plans with an opportunity to uncover, discuss, and resolve problems faster.
Improving member outreach and engagement can be made easier with a programmatic approach involving four stages of intentional outreach: Getting to know your members, educating members, seeking feedback from members and gaining member loyalty. Each stage not only contributes to a better member experience but also to improved outcomes and higher satisfaction scores.
Now that the issue has come to the fore, what do you think things will look like in 5 years or so?
I predict that health plans that get member engagement, education and equity right will achieve better health and greater value, faster. Those who get it wrong or delay will suffer the consequences of competitive disadvantage and pay a larger share of the rising costs associated with health inequity.