Rahmah Mohamad Pauzi is the only Malaysian undergraduate student at the University of Massachusetts, and according to the Malaysian Embassy, she might be the last.
Pauzi will be made to pay over $2,000 this year for the Student Health Insurance Plan (SHIP), despite being covered by the estimated $250,000 plan paid for by the Public Service Department of Malaysia.
“UMass [health insurance] policy is based on state law,” said Patricia Vokbus, Dean of International Exchange Students. According to the SHIP page on the UMass website, all international students are required to maintain the coverage provided by the University.
According to Vokbus, there is “room for interpretation,” for the health care law pertaining to care for international students, and UMass is on the “stricter end” of the current interpretation.
“Every government sponsored [Malaysian] student already has health insurance provided by a company called Global Exchange,” said Pauzi. “Usually [Malaysian] students don’t have any problem waiving the health insurance provided by the [American] universities, but in my case…UMass does not allow me to waive my health insurance.”
According to Pauzi, her sponsor, Pn Ruziah Shafei at the public service department of Malaysia, refused to pay the additional coverage provided by UMass. As a result, Pauzi expects to pay for the SHIP out-of-pocket.
According to Shafei, Pauzi’s sponsor, there are over 1,000 Malaysian students attending universities across the United States, but UMass is the only university she has encountered which would not waive the student health plan.
“We will not be sending any more students to UMass,” said Shafei. “It’s too expensive to pay for two health insurance plans.”
If the officials at the Malaysian Embassy do not change their minds, Pauzi will be the last Malaysian student to attend UMass through the exchange program.
Pauzi was upset when she heard UMass had been “blacklisted” by the Malaysian government.
“I was like ‘No, I am here alone, please let others apply here,’” said Pauzi, who explained she was more frustrated by the fact she would not be joined by any compatriots from Malaysia than having to pay the extra money for the health insurance.
Pauzi contacted the International Programs Office (IPO) about three months before enrolling at the University to vocalize her concerns about the policy, but received no results due to the current policy. Pauzi also went to University Health Services about a month ago to address her insurance issues, but also was turned away due to the policy.
“[UHS] told me they couldn’t do anything,” said Pauzi, “[They also told me] that my case is not the first one, because there are not many international students and [they said] there are other government-sponsored students at UMass [who have to purchase the SHIP] because of UMass policy.”
Pauzi felt “frustrated” that she wasn’t allowed to speak to anyone at UHS besides the receptionists at the front desk.
Pauzi explained that she also tried to waive the insurance provided to her by Global Exchange, but her sponsor said she had already paid for the insurance months in advance.
According to Celia Santos, a receptionist at UHS’ service desk, there have been problems in the past where the University never received payment from overseas healthcare providers.
Pauzi said the health insurance provided to her by Global Exchange is similar in quality to insurance of the average UMass undergraduate. She asserted that cases such as hers should receive further consideration than the current policy provides.
According to the IPO, international students are presented with a pamphlet describing the University’s policy regarding health care when they arrive at the University.
The Faculty Senate recently decided to form a committee to investigate the effectiveness of the current policy pertaining to the health insurance for international students. The Ad Hoc Committee on Health Insurance will be chaired by Elizabeth Brabec, the head of the Department of Landscape Architecture and Regional Planning.
According to Brabec, the goal of the committee is to determine whether the current policy treats international students “equitably,” in a way that will not compromise care provided to the students.
“If the University wants to become more competitive,” said Brabec, “[UMass] needs to be more open to international students.”
According to Brabec, the committee will provide the Faculty Senate with a comprehensive report at some point in the next few months.
Bobby Hitt can be reached at email@example.com.