SAMRU benefit plan in need of a check-up
by Bryan Weismiller
The student benefit plan is becoming a headache for those who are sick and tired of working around privacy laws to activate the medical and dental coverage that students are already paying for.
Students taking nine credits or more are automatically enrolled in the Students’ Association of Mount Royal University’s benefit plan. Despite paying $96 upon registration, students do not receive benefits until they give their birth date and student ID number to someone in the SAMRU Student Benefits Plan office.
University of Calgary and SAIT students are not required to fulfill this additional requirement. Asha Quazi, Mount Royal student service co-ordinator for Gallivan and Associates, said the school’s unique activation process makes her job less efficient than other offices at the U of C and SAIT.
“We’d love if students had instant access to their benefits once they paid their fees,” Quazi said. “We’d totally love it, because our office would be much more efficient.
“We’re currently trying to get it done differently, because the activation process is more work for everyone involved.”
Quazi said that it typically takes under 45 days to activate coverage at the U of C and SAIT compared to 45-60 days at Mount Royal. She also said the information must be entered manually, which can lead to mistakes when processing thousands of applications.
“If students don’t like it then they should talk to the Students’ Association about it, because we would be happy to get rid of the activation process if it were possible.” Quazi said.
The benefits plan is one of many issues being considered by candidates running in the SAMRU elections. Voting started online on Jan. 31, and begins in-person on Feb. 7. Both presidential candidates said they were interested in finding out more about the problems concerning the activation process.
“It’s just an antiquated system, it’s ridiculous,” said Meghan Melnyk, presidential candidate. “They have the knowledge and ability to put that information right on there.”
“When you’re paying for a service then that service should be granted to you automatically,” said Kyle MacQuarrie, who’s also running for president. “It’s cut-and-dry to me.”
However, the Students’ Association does not have absolute power to correct the problem. Numerous pieces of legislation bind what any organization can do with someone’s information.
“The university collects all of the money for the fees, but they have privacy legislation that they’re bound to and they cannot give us the information that we need in order to actually process the (benefits) plan,” said Marcy Fogal, Students’ Association executive director. “The only people who can give us that information are the students themselves.”
Fogal said asking the students to go down to the benefits office is the only way the association knows how to get around the privacy legislation keeping students from activating their benefits. She added that she “would prefer a more seamless integration for all kinds of different reasons.
“Ideally, privacy legislation could be relaxed a little to allow clear partners to share information, so that program could be administered more effectively,” Fogal said. “As it stands right now, that doesn’t appear to be the case.”
The Students’ Association signed an information sharing act with Mount Royal University in 2005. The agreement falls under the Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act or FOIP as it’s often known.
In this case, some of Mount Royal’s top executives were not aware that privacy laws are slowing down the activation process.
When asked, Brian Fleming, Mount Royal student affairs and campus life VP, said he couldn’t explain why there was an issue activating the plan. Richard Roberts, Mount Royal administrative services VP, was not available for comment, but said in a later email that he knew little about the activation process for the students’ benefit plans.
Jeremy Duffin, Mount Royal information management and privacy advisor, said the university is likely only looking to protect students by honouring privacy agreements.
“FOIP basically outlines how Mount Royal should handle personal information and it gives details on how to protect privacy, but also on promoting access,” Duffin said. “When a third party is in involved then the bar is set pretty high, because we have to protect personal information.”
Duffin said he has only been working at Mount Royal for three months, but he’s noticed cases where privacy laws have actually interfered with sharing necessary information.
In a similar case, Duffin said Mount Royal was being overly cautious with the amount of information it released to the government concerning awards and scholarships and the institution was ultimately making the process more difficult.
“Yes, FOIP is about privacy, but there are some ridiculous times where we get tripped up on privacy,” Duffin said. “There are actually some exceptions to the rule that are actually to people’s benefit.
“It’s commendable that we’re protecting everybody’s privacy, but there are some situations where we’re actually allowed to share.”
After receiving an email from The Reflector sent on Jan. 27, Duane Anderson, Mount Royal director of finance, planning and risk services, said he has since called Marcy Fogal to discuss the matter. He added that he may need to sit down with Duffin to look into at can be done.
Asha Quazi said she’s optimistic that the activation process could be changed.
“I think it’s up to the students to get it abolished and they could make it happen,” Quazi said. “We’re learning to deal with it, but we could really use the students to back us up and make a change.”