Students across University faculties in Law and Health Sciences are campaigning to get international students fair and equitable healthcare insurance. They are advocating for the University to uphold their legal obligations to get international students the insurance they are owed. That includes policies that reflect the additional barriers to comprehensive health-care faced by people of different gender identities, sexual orientations, and sexual characteristics.
Under our immigration laws, international students are required to hold private health insurance while residing in Aotearoa. To ensure students have adequate coverage, providers—that includes universities—owe their international students a pastoral duty of care under the Education (Pastoral Care of Tertiary and International Learners) Code of Practice 2021. If you’re an international student at the University, you get automatically insured under the Studentsafe Inbound University policy by Allianz Partners.
Currently, this insurance excludes coverage for all sexual health-related expenses.
The Ministry of Education has affirmed that providers must ensure students have appropriate cover for medical care, which includes a number of services such as diagnoses, prescriptions, surgeries, and hospitalisations. But things like contraception and reproductive care, CAT scans, and any care for sexually transmitted infections are disincluded. Only when a student has a medical condition that triggers the policy will they receive coverage.
The students leading the campaign say this is a real ambulance-at-the-bottom-of-the-hill situation where the sexual health of international students, and the wider community, are at risk.
International Student Officer, Varsha Ravi, told Craccum that “everyone knows these issues exist, it’s just that no one has cared since it only affects international students.” Additionally, Ravi notes the campaign has faced apathy from the University. “The decisions taken for insurance coverage are commercial decisions rather than from the perspective of student welfare.
”[But] these aren’t just insurance claims—we’re talking about students’ lives.”
Viha Vig and Caroline Stokowski have been leading the efforts from the Faculty of Medical and Health Sciences (FMHS) researching the gaps in the University’s insurance regimes and its impacts on students. For Viha, “obtaining faculty support for the campaign and its associated evidence-based initiatives” has been the hardest part. “Some of the meetings we had made us feel like international students are treated like an afterthought.”
Brandon Goh and Beth Awatera are part of Rainbow Law, a queer community and advocacy-focused club at the Law school. They have been spearheading the LGBTQIA+ legal reform arm of the campaign. They want amendments to the Human Rights Act 1993, which exempts insurance companies from liability for gender discrimination. They also want reform to the Education and Training Act 2020, alongside changes at the University level.
Beth explains that having to bear the full costs for treatment adds another huge challenge to the existing difficulties queer international students face accessing sexual health-related care due to stigma. Beth says this stigma means the issue of inadequate sexual health cover has flown under the radar in the international queer community because “many people…are coming from [contexts] where being queer is illegal”. International students then feel pressured to accept whatever coverage they get.
The campaign has been making headway, both collectively and in their individual areas. Recently, the Rainbow Law team were successful in getting the Human Rights Commission to find that insurance companies are discriminating against their policyholders on the basis of sexual orientation. The FMHS team has been collecting data on the best potential changes to the University’s insurance policies in preparing a University-wide student feedback survey. Already, a huge step forward for the team has been meeting with Allianz representatives, the University’s insurance broker, the University’s insurance advisor, and the International Office’s Student Support Manager to reach a negotiation stage.
But the team knows there is a long way to go in this campaign. And that requires more wide-spread support from all students. Brandon says the campaign is currently working on engaging student groups across faculties to “gain their support and their faculty’s support in order to encourage the central administration to change course”. They are also looking to include outside non-government organisations and professional bodies for added leverage, “It’s a systematic issue of discrimination that needs the community as a whole to get involved.”