Part-timers stuck in health quagmire

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By Josh Wingrove

In the past two years, Patrick Keith has spent $2,500 on standard dental work. Every dollar came from his personal line of credit — a bill he still hasn’t paid.

Keith has no health coverage and isn’t eligible for the Ryerson Students’ Union health plan.

He’s out in the cold because his program — Public Administration and Governance — is only offered as “part-time,” regardless of how many courses he takes. Instead of being lumped in with full-time students in the RSU, Keith is a member of the Continuing Education Students’ Association of Ryerson (CESAR), which doesn’t offer coverage. Because of this, he isn’t entitled to a health plan, ISIC travel cards and $200 extra a month in tax exemptions.

Of the 3,281 part-time students in Ryerson’s 18 part-time programs last year, 328 were carrying what administrators consider to be a full-time course load while drawing none of the benefits most full-time students are entitled to.

“It’s pathetic that we don’t have (a health and dental plan). We should all be under the privy of the RSU and we should have the plan … The way the part time students are treated at Ryerson is completely inadequate,” said Keith. He is taking three courses this term, which makes him a full time student in the eyes of OSAP and Revenue Canada.

The RSU charges $259 a year to every full-time undergraduate and graduate student for an extended health plan, offering support with dental work, pharmaceuticals, traditional and alternative care.

A comparable plan offered by the Special Benefits Insurance Services in Toronto costs more than $1,000 a year. Manulife Financial quoted $760 per year for a similar plan.

“They don’t vote in RSU elections. They don’t pay the RSU fees and they aren’t a part of the health plan,” said Chris Drew, RSU Vice President of Finance and Services. Although full-time students are able to opt out of paying the health care fee, part-time students aren’t able to opt in.

Drew said students need to talk to the university to figure out why they aren’t considered to be full time.

President Sheldon Levy said its the responsibility of the students’ unions.

Part-time students at the University of Toronto are represented by their own union, the Association of Undergraduate Part-time Students (APUS). The union offers U of T part-timers, who are taking just one course, an extended health plan at a cost of about $107 a year.

Since Ryerson’s part-time, distance learning and continuing education students are all lumped together, any health plan for such a diverse group would pose a logistical nightmare for CESAR administration.

Public Administration and Governance program coordinator Bryan Evans said many part-time students have health coverage through their full-time jobs.

CESAR president Jeremy Salter said many work full-time hours at jobs with no benefits, but only a few have inquired about a plan.

“If we started getting a flood of e-mails from our members to establish this service, then we could move forward,” Salter said.

Registrar Keith Alnwick said OSAP, Ontario University Athletics and Ryerson all have different definitions of what a full time student is. He encourages both students’ unions to find solutions for students seeking support.

Part-time students with full-time course loads face other hurdles. GO Train discounts and any RSU bursaries are open only to full-time students. Full time students can claim $400 a month in federal income tax credit, part-time students only $200.

Many student athletes, for whom part time programs are a popular destination with more relaxed entrance requirements, are classified as part time by Ryerson while simultaneously recognized as full time by the OUA — as long as they take three classes each term.

Part-time students find coverage in a variety of ways. Information and Technology Management part-time student Sabrina Manickam said she gets health coverage from her work.

First-year Public Administration and Governance student Matthew Cwihun is covered by his parents’ plan right now, but said it would make a world of difference to be classified as full-time.

“I’m spending so much money and I’m getting shafted,” Cwihun said. “I’m getting none of these services.”

Krystal Williams studies sociology part-time because she “can’t live off OSAP” and has to work.

Students can vote to expand or introduce health plans, but it would be up to the university to label these students as “full time.” Drew and Salter both emphasized that a referendum is the best way for CESAR to introduce a health plan, but such a task would demand backing from more than just a few students.

“Come to us, so we can say it’s a legitimate concern from our members,” Salter urged.

“It’s not impossible … We’ve just had a hard time figuring out how to set it up,” he added.

— With files from Muhammad Ali Zafar

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