A tough pill to swallow

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UVSS’ health care slip up costs students a lot

It’s a bit of a running joke that no one really knows what the UVSS is doing (especially the UVSS themselves).

People are often only reminded of the fact that they exist each March, when the faces of prospective student politicians are literally plastered to every concrete wall on campus. Their promises are bold, brilliant, and almost always bullshit.

But that’s okay! It’s totally okay if someone wants to promise a Tim Horton’s here or a petting zoo there — it’s harmless.

That is, until it isn’t.

Because the UVSS actually holds quite a bit of power, when they fail to understand how that power works, they drastically affect the lives of the students they’re supposed to be looking after.

This power has never been more exposed than when the UVSS’ decision to shift to a new health care provider cost Lilia Zaharevia, a student at UVic, her important Cystic Fibrosis drug Orkambi.

Not only was the decision to change health care plans questionable — the decision was made in a board meeting, rather than in a referendum — but the method of communicating the change was also maddeningly naive: “Win a $50 gift card,” the email subject line read, not: “There is important information regarding your health care in this email.”

Graphic by Nat Inez, Graphics Contributor

Even if students wanted to attend board meetings (which no one does), they are poorly advertised and the agendas are rarely available beforehand. The minutes of these meetings are not routinely posted online (though they have been recently updated after the UVSS was criticized on this matter last month).

The result of this was that a student had eight days notice that she would no longer be able to access a drug that kept her lungs working at a greater capacity than 29 per cent.

The UVSS can’t help Zaharieva right now, even if they wanted to. They’re planning a spring referendum to charge students more money for their health care coverage in order to go back to the plan they were on before. But that’s almost five months away.

They can ask people to sign their poorly written petition, and pledge their support behind a student they themselves let down.

Or they can make meaningful change: talk to the university about a better way of communicating with the student body beyond the two emails they’re apparently allowed to send out each year.

Write policy that dictates how exactly you tell your students about health care policy and how responsible you are when you mess up.

Be accountable and open with what happens in your meetings, and don’t wait months to post board meeting minutes.

Or set up a Tim Horton’s. Your call.

This story was updated to remove information about how many days of Orkambi Zaharieva had, due to the passing of time between the print publication date and the online publication date.

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4 Comments

Avatar Deb Bhatti

Thank you so much for writing this article. While my situation is not as dire as Lilia Zaharieva, I truly feel for her. I am also a student with a disability, with a very painful Stage 4 diagnosis. I have been looking for answers as to what led to the changes in the UVSS Health Plan. I scoured the UVSS Facebook Page, and searched the UVIC website but was unable to get the clarity I was looking for. I am so devastated by this change to our policy. Most of my medications are no longer covered as well. I cannot believe there wasnt a referendum about this. I have been a UVSS member for many years and have seen participation in referendums about far more trivial things. I sincerely hope we can change this ASAP. I completely agree the written communications about these changes were really tone deaf and not symmetrical to the impact of this situation.

Avatar Gabriel Syme

Another muppet hiding behind “Martlet Staff” attacking fellow students.

How about this: YOU prove you’re not completely worthless and shut down this glorified blog so you can reallocate the funds to pay for the girl’s medicine?

Avatar Maxwell Nicholson

Hey Martlet UVic! It seems a bit disingenuous to mention nowhere in your article that these changes had nothing to do with the current board, who compared to most boards have done a pretty great job of keeping promises (re. co-op rebate and shuttle buses). I think it would be appropriate to fix this in your article, rather than continuing to spread a false narrative.

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