AMS increases mental health coverage following student criticism

The AMS has raised mental health coverage by $250, three weeks after coverage decreased from $1,500 to $1,000.

In January 2022, the AMS announced it would expand mental health coverage in the AMS/GSS Health & Dental from $1,000 to $1,500, backdated to September 2021. But, on August 31, the student society quietly let the extra $500 in coverage expire. Many students criticized the reversion to $1,000 in coverage, saying the change had been poorly communicated and that $1,000 in mental health coverage would not be enough.

According to a tweet from the AMS’s official Twitter, AMS President and interim VP Finance Eshana Bhangu and the AMS/GSS Health & Dental Committee have now approved a $250 increase in mental health coverage — from $1,000 to $1,250.

The coverage is effective September 1, 2022, Bhangu said in an email to The Ubyssey Wednesday morning.

"In full candidness, I heard students and their concerns and the reason it took the time it did is because we were trying to find a solution and offer increased mental health coverage in a way that the AMS can actually consistently afford," she wrote.

Bhangu initially justified the $500 decrease by saying that increased mental health coverage comes at “increased cost” to students, and that only 1.37 per cent of students had used the full $1,000 coverage.

Students also criticized Bhangu for going back on her campaign promise to permanently raise mental health coverage to at least $1,250. Bhangu wrote in her email that the $250 increase is intended to be permanent.

"It will require efforts and planning on the part of the Health and Dental Committee to ensure that the AMS can afford it as a permanent change ... and we’re fully committed to doing what it takes and exploring creative solutions to prioritise this coverage that students have made clear is very very important for them."

The change also comes midway through the by-election to find a permanent VP finance.

During Tuesday night’s debate, candidates had diverging plans on whether or not the coverage through the AMS/GSS plan should be increased, but agreed mental health coverage needed improvement.

In statements to The Ubyssey, all three candidates said they supported the raise. 

Candidate Lawrence Liu said he wants to make a further, permanent increase to the coverage.

“I really believe it doesn’t stop here … there will be more that we can do to even further increase that coverage,” Liu wrote. 

However, Kamil Kanji and the Arts Student Centre (represented by Mathew Ho) wrote they want to ensure the increase is sustainable in the long-term. 

“Without elaboration on where the costs are coming from … The ASC finds it difficult to assess the long term sustainability,” the ASC wrote. 

“This is only the beginning and we need to explore creative ways to further the increase and sustain it,” wrote Kanji.

When asked why the AMS announced this change while students are considering someone to fill the position that oversees mental health coverage, Bhangu said the student society doesn't stop working during an election.

"We want to ensure that a change like this is made and communicated to students before the end of the Change-of-Coverage period and first month of the policy year so students know what to expect."

This piece was updated at 2:55 p.m. on September 21 to include comments from the VP finance candidates.