AMS unveils new health and dental plan to improve long-term stability goals

At the last council meeting, AMS President Esmé Decker presented changes to the 2023/24 AMS/GSS Health & Dental Plan involving reductions in certain coverage areas.

Next year, as a result of two successful referendums, a basic fee increase of $52.50 and an $8 fee to support gender-affirming services were added. Students will pay an annual fee of $338.00, an increase from last year’s $277.50.

Changes in the new coverage plan result in four main changes for students. The first change outlines a 10 per cent reduction in coverage for basic dental services, including fillings, oral surgery, root canals and gum treatments. The second change is a 20 per cent decrease in coverage per psychologist visits from 100 per cent to 80 per cent. The third reduction results in a decrease for eyeglasses and contacts coverage from $100 to $80. Finally, Gardasil (HPV vaccine) coverage will also be reduced from $250 to $150.

With the current changes, VP Finance Abhi Mishra said the AMS hopes to accomplish a “two-pronged” goal. The first priority is to ensure students have access to as many resources as possible, and the second is to steer the plan to long-term stability amidst increasing per-capita claims.

“We were seeing a lot of cost increases and the AMS’ internal reserves depleting,” said Mishra.

With increasing costs of dental care and general inflation across several insurance categories, he explained that the plan was not sustainable to continue operating in its current state.

Coverage reduction is only one step the AMS took, with Mishra explaining how they were able to negotiate with insurers for a reduced cost to help “bridge the gap” between the plan’s fee and the plan’s premium. The plan has also been moved from a refund accounting model to a fully-insured model, meaning the AMS is no longer liable for the plan’s deficit and will not have to touch its reserves in the future.

Mishra also said the AMS also formalized a Reserve Fund Policy, which mandates the organization to have at least 10 per cent of the premiums held separately in a “rainy day” reserve to aid in potential unexpected issues.

“If there are any uncertain issues that take place, we wouldn’t be in a position where we fail to support students with this reserve,” he said.

Reduction in mental health coverage

The most notable change in this year’s plan is the reduction in coverage per visit for mental health services. The previous plan covered 100 per cent of the costs per visit, but the new plan covers only 80 per cent. Both plans still cover up to $1,250 in claims.

In the recent council meeting, Decker explained that the 20 per cent decrease amounts to an approximate $20 dollars that a student would pay out of pocket per psychologist visit.

Notably, a student-at-large responded in the meeting by noting this 20 per cent decrease in coverage potentially being the difference between a student’s groceries versus counselling services.

Lester Lin, a fourth-year student, echoed similar statements in a written statement to The Ubyssey. He considered it “disingenuous” and “dishonest” for the AMS to cut mental health coverage with no prior announcement.

“The psychological barrier between something that is free and something that costs money is huge,” he continued.

Lin is against the idea of cutting mental health coverage by percentage, rather than overall amount. He feels this approach discourages students from using the service because students will inevitably have to pay out of pocket to use any part of the coverage.

In addition, he believes that the percentage-coverage model “interacts terribly” with sliding scale payment options, the general approach that mental health practitioners take when reducing fees for low-income individuals.

“This policy change is an absolute disaster and it should be reversed before someone gets hurt or killed,” wrote Lin.

Mishra said that the AMS took into account the backlash that was received last year when the overall principal coverage was reduced from $1,500 to $1,000. He said this is partly what motivated them to reduce the percentage of coverage instead of the dollar amount.

“If anybody on this campus is experiencing any mental health issues, there are a lot of resources available to them,” added Mishra. He said that the AMS continues working to provide students with as many accessible resources as possible and hopefully will make more improvements in the next year.

“We’re here to support students in every capacity that we can, and that’s what we plan to accomplish,” he said, regarding the upcoming school year.

The current policy year for these changes begins on September 1.

Lester Lin has previously been a contributor for the Culture section of The Ubyssey. He was not involved in the writing or editing of this article.