‘Super stressed’: STU international students wait up to nine months for N.B. Medicare

    The emergency entrance to the Dr. Everett Chalmers Regional Hospital in Fredericton, N.B. is pictured in this photo. (Daniel Salas/AQ)

    Delays in applications for New Brunswick Medicare forced some international students to opt for private insurance — which some say comes at an extra cost.

    International students arriving in Canada are required to obtain medical health insurance. St. Thomas University enrolls them in Guard.me — a company that provides insurance to international students from universities worldwide. 

    Student posing outside the Dr. Everett Chalmers Regional Hospital. (Daniel Salas/AQ)

    Once they arrive in New Brunswick, students are encouraged to apply for medicare, a process that may take up to nine months, according to reporting by CBC News.

    Alberto Chávez, a second-year student from Ecuador majoring in economics, said he didn’t know much about medicare when he first came to Canada and did not immediately apply. 

    He eventually applied in August, but he still has yet to receive his medicare card, which means he will have to re-enroll in Guard.me for the academic year and forces him to pay more in Guard.me fees. 

    “I have to be super stressed every day because if something happens, I have to pay a bill … because sometimes Guard.me even doesn’t [cover] everything,” he said. 

    According to Guard.me’s website, the insurance doesn’t cover pre-existing conditions, routine doctor’s visits or prescriptions over a 30-day supply. It costs $264 per semester, which is on top of STU’s international student tuition of $18,068 per year. 

    For this reason, applying for New Brunswick’s free medicare program is on the priority list of many international students.

    Chávez said he has friends with bad experiences with Guard.me’s coverage.

    “My friend, after my birthday, had a minor issue. Fortunately, she’s okay, but she received a $600 bill for [checking] a simple fever,” he said.

    Chávez grew afraid from this experience that Guard.me’s coverage wasn’t enough. He said being an international student already comes with added expenses and the thought of unexpected charges worries him.

    Carrie Monteith-Levesque is STU’s international student coordinator. She said her role involves assisting international students with their transition to university life in Canada, including helping them apply to medicare. 

    Due to high volumes of immigration and staffing shortages from the pandemic, Monteith-Levesque said the medicare application process became longer, but there’s not much STU can do about it.

    “As an institution, we can only tell students to wait,” she said. “Unfortunately, we don’t have any authority [over New Brunswick’s department of health].”

    Monteith-Levesque said a possible solution is to enroll international students in Guard.me and once they have their provincial insurance, they can opt out for the upcoming term if they show their medicare card to financial services.

    While Guard.me is a good temporary insurance, she said it doesn’t cover pre-existing conditions, which is why she encourages international students to apply for a medicare card as soon as possible.

    “We don’t always know what we need until we need it,” she said.