Until the summer of 2012, graduate and undergraduate students worked collaboratively on a joint health, dental and accident plan for over a decade. At the end of July 2012 the Carleton Undergraduate Students Association (CUSA) announced that it was breaking two contracts with the GSA and one with the health plan broker. CUSA indicated it was initiating its own plan effective September 1, 2012.

The contracts in question required a referendum or mutual agreement to abandon the health plan. These mechanisms had long been in place to avoid sudden disruptions to the plan. Rather than hold a referendum of its membership, the CUSA executive purportedly redefined ‘referendum’ in their governing documents to mean a vote of three CUSA executives. These actions are currently the subject of litigation initiated by the GSA against CUSA.

The GSA Board of Directors (the “Board”) could not agree to enrolling graduate students in the new undergraduate plan for a number of reasons. First, the GSA did not want to break its legal contracts with the broker. Second, the CUSA executive refused to provide adequate information to the GSA. The information that was provided was not palatable – for instance, one method to decrease the cost of the plan was to reduce opt-outs for students who already have health plan coverage. Third, and most importantly, CUSA insisted that the GSA would not be a signatory to any new plan and the GSA would have no say over the administration, design or coverage offered. The Board felt it would be irresponsible to have graduate students enrolled in a plan with no input from graduate students.

These developments have put the graduate student plan in a difficult position. The joint plan had approximately 16000 members, which spread the risk and provided the benefits of economies of scale. Simply put, costs are reduced with more people in the plan, and smaller plans inevitably cost more.

Graduate students are fortunate that the broker (Morneau Sheppel) and the insurer (Green Shield Canada) honoured the existing contract with the GSA. The benefits and cost of the plan remains unchanged until the contract expires on August 31, 2014. Effectively, given the smaller number of people in the graduate student plan, it will not be sustainable in its current form beginning September 1, 2014.

The GSA is exploring longer-term options to increase membership in the plan, such as creating a joint plan with graduate students at the University of Ottawa and elsewhere. In the short-term, changes will be required to either or both the coverage levels and/or price of the plan.

To solicit feedback from its membership, the GSA has developed a short online survey. Please take a few minutes to provide the GSA with feedback that will inform the direction of the health plan in the future.