Couple pushes for student visa health coverage

When Chris and Olivia Cox decided to move to Whitehorse together last October, the newlyweds got an unwelcome surprise: Olivia isn't eligible for Yukon medicare.

When Chris and Olivia Cox decided to move to Whitehorse together last October, the newlyweds got an unwelcome surprise: Olivia isn’t eligible for Yukon medicare.

That’s because she is an American citizen, in Canada on a student visa, and the Yukon is one of the only jurisdictions in Canada that doesn’t extend health care to foreign students.

“It was a surprise. It was something we had really counted on. We started looking into other jurisdictions, and they all cover it but the Yukon doesn’t,” Olivia said.

Olivia is a linguistics student working on her dissertation through the University of Alberta, which recruited her from the States a few years ago. She met Chris in Alberta, and the two got married in July 2012.

In Alberta, Olivia’s health care was covered by the province, but she and Chris had no idea they wouldn’t be covered in the Yukon until they applied here and were rejected.

Not only does the territory not cover Olivia, her new husband’s employer’s health plan won’t cover her either, unless she already has basic health coverage.

That means paying $200 a month for basic overage through Great West Life, on top of the international tuition she’s already paying – three times higher than Canadian tuition.

“That basically means I can go to the hospital. If I got in a car crash, they could take me to the hospital,” but that’s about it,” Olivia said.

“We wouldn’t have chosen to come here knowing this. It’s a major disincentive,” Chris said.

When the couple discovered the issue, they brought it to the territorial health minister’s office. They said they were told that changing the rules wouldn’t require re-jigging the entire act, just some political will from the minister’s office – political will which apparently doesn’t exist right now.

“From what I understand, it’s really just a matter of the minister making the decision to allow it,” Chris said.

That may be true, but according to Health Minister Doug Graham, even if the rules were changed, Olivia wouldn’t be covered because she’s not registered at Yukon College.

“If you’re attending university at the University of Alberta, you go to Edmonton and you’re covered by Alberta medicare. If you got a visa to go to Yukon College, you wouldn’t be covered by Alberta medicare,” he said.

However, Graham conceded that even if she were a Yukon College student, she still wouldn’t be covered.

“One of the reasons is because of the small population. Any increase in the number of people on medicare costs us proportionately a huge amount of money compared to say a province like Ontario or Alberta,” Graham explained.

The other reason, he said, is that the issue simply hasn’t ever come up before.

Prior to his stint as an MLA, Graham was the registrar at Yukon College for 25 years. During that time he never once had anyone complain about the health coverage issue, he said.

The NDP’s health critic, Jan Stick, brought a motion in the legislature late last month urging the government to extent health coverage to international students.

Speaking with the News, Graham said he would consider changing the rules to allow for coverage of international students, but only in consultation with the college.

“I don’t know if it’s an impediment to attracting students. I don’t know if things have changed, but in all the years I was there this never came up,” he said.

According to the college, this past fall there were 16 international students registered in credit programs at the college, plus a few more who come for shorter one- or two-month stays to learn English or other skills.

Jacqueline Bedard, the director of college relations, said she also has never heard of international students complaining about the medicare restrictions. She said Yukon College international students are able to get private insurance for substantially less than what the Cox’s are paying.

“It’s not an inexpensive proposition to be an international student, period,” Bedard said.

“When you look at the cost of health care for an international student, we’re looking at perhaps $1.80 a day depending on what private supplier they choose to get their health coverage through. Really, in the greater scheme of things, it’s not a lot of money for an international student,” she said.

But the Coxes are paying almost four times as much as that for their private insurance, which is the cheapest they could find.

“We keep hearing that there is such a need for people with expertise like this to be here and working with the communities,” Chris said.

“It seems really strange that someone like Olivia wouldn’t be welcome, at least not in this way,” Chris said.

Contact Jesse Winter at

jessew@yukon-news.com

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

In a Feb. 17 statement, the City of Whitehorse announced it had adopted the what3words location technology used for emergency response. (Haley Ritchie/Yukon News)
Three words could make all the difference in an emergency

City of Whitehorse announced it had adopted the what3words location technology

Jesse Whelen, Blood Ties Four Directions harm reduction councillor, demonstrates how the organization tests for fentanyl in drugs in Whitehorse on May 12, 2020. The Yukon Coroner’s Service has confirmed three drug overdose deaths and one probable overdose death since mid-January. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News file)
Three overdose deaths caused by “varying levels of cocaine and fentanyl,” coroner says

Heather Jones says overdoses continue to take lives at an “alarming rate”

Wyatt's World for Feb. 24, 2021.
WYATT’S WORLD

Wyatt’s World for Feb. 24, 2021.

Approximately 30 Yukoners protest for justice outside the Whitehorse courthouse on Feb. 22, while a preliminary assault hearing takes place inside. The Whitehorse rally took place after the Liard Aboriginal Women’s Society, based in Watson Lake, put out a call to action over the weekend. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News)
Courthouse rally denounces violence against Indigenous women

The Whitehorse rally took place after the Liard Aboriginal Women’s Society put out a call to action

Then Old Crow MLA Darius Elias speak’s in the community centre in Old Crow in 2016. Elias died in Whitehorse on Feb. 17. (Maura Forrest/Yukon News file)
Condolences shared for former Vuntut Gwitchin MLA Darius Elias

Elias is remembered as a proud parent, hockey fan and politican

Susie Rogan is a veteran musher with 14 years of racing experience and Yukon Journey organizer. (Yukon Journey Facebook)
Yukon Journey mushers begin 255-mile race

Eleven mushers are participating in the race from Pelly Crossing to Whitehorse

Yukon Energy in Whitehorse on Aug. 4, 2020. A site on Robert Service Way near the Alaska Highway has been selected as the future home of Yukon Energy’s energy storage project. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News file)
Site selected for Yukon Energy battery project

Planned to be in service by the end of 2022

The Yukon government and the Yukon First Nations Chamber of Commerce have signed a letter of understanding under the territory’s new procurement policy. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News file)
First Nation business registry planned under new procurement system

Letter of understanding signals plans to develop registry, boost procurement opportunities

US Consul General Brent Hardt during a wreath-laying ceremony at Peace Arch State Park in September 2020. Hardt said the two federal governments have been working closely on the issue of appropriate border measures during the pandemic. (John Kageorge photo)
New U.S. consul general says countries working closely on COVID-19 border

“I mean, the goal, obviously, is for both countries to get ahead of this pandemic.”

Legislative assembly on the last day of the fall sitting in Whitehorse on Nov. 22, 2018. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News file)
Start of spring sitting announced

The Yukon legislature is set to resume for the spring sitting on… Continue reading

Whitehorse City Hall. (Joel Krahn/Yukon News file)
City hall, briefly

A look at decisions made by Whitehorse City Council this week

(Submitted)
History Hunter: Kwanlin Dün — a book of history, hardship and hope

Dǎ Kwǎndur Ghày Ghàkwadîndur: Our Story in Our Words is published by… Continue reading

(File photo)
RCMP arrest Saskatchewan murder suspect

Yukon RCMP have arrested a man suspected of attempted murder from outside… Continue reading

Most Read