More mental health coverage for students

Mubassir Ahmed

Beginning Jan. 1, 2020, students at UW will have access to EmpowerMe, a student assistance program in addition to an expansion in the existing mental health coverage to support campus wellness at UW.

The  Waterloo Undergraduate Student Association (WUSA) claims this is part of one of the most comprehensive updates to a student healthcare plan in Canada.

WUSA and the Graduate Student Association (GSA) worked with the UW Campus Wellness and StudentCare to re-evaluate the insurance coverage offered to students furthering recommendations from the President’s Advisory Committee on Student Mental Health (PAC-SMH) which is composed of WUSA and GSA presidents and students elected or appointed by WUSA and GSA. 

The Health Plan Oversight Committee voted unanimously on Nov. 25 to expand student health coverage.

This comes as a welcome addition to the existing mental health support offered by the university following an outcry for greater coverage.

The expansion of coverage will include doubling the annual coverage limits for mental health services under the health plan to 80 per cent coverage for mental health practitioners to a new total of $800.00 per year.

This will expand the scope of allowed mental health practitioners covered under the health plan to include psychologists, registered social workers, psychotherapists, and clinical counsellors to eliminate referral requirement from a medical doctor to have your psychological treatment covered by the health plan.

The entire process of the final selection and addition to the health plan was an effort by the WUSA/GSA joint Health Plan Oversight Committee, under the leadership of Seneca Velling, Vice President, Operations & Finance for WUSA.

“The addition of the SAP by WUSA/GSA achieves a seminal goal as part of UW, WUSA, and GSA’s collective efforts to address mental health on campus,” said Velling

The addition of EmpowerMe, a Student Assistance Program (SAP), is a confidential student assistance program that will be available throughout the year at all times to further support on campus.

 It is a counselling service that helps you connect with counsellors, psychologists, health professionals, and life coaches. 

The SAP will provide telecommunication based and in-person support that will work in addition to the UW campus wellness and was selected after several considerations that included value-for-money, total costs, service levels, and integration with campus wellness and into the health plan.

“The outcome we hope to see in a term or two is a back-and-forth referral system that is wholly integrated into the STEP care model, whereby students seeing counsellors through the SAP can be referred into Campus Wellness’ system when they need more dedicated care and Campus Wellness can refer out to the SAP. 

In turn, this will allow Counselling Services to better meet demand and seek support,” Velling said.

The student will have access to support in over 200 languages for issues relating to relationships, depression, anxiety, stress, and crisis, among others.

“The expansion of health plan coverage will not immediately allow for reduced wait times and increase service levels by Counselling Services, but in the long-term, the hope is that it will,” added Velling.

WUSA hopes to increase off-campus opportunities making on-campus options less inundated so that they can focus and provide supportive care to cases that require immediate help without compromising short-term needs of many students.

“By reducing barriers to make claims against the plan, WUSA/GSA have effectively opened a business opportunity for external mental healthcare practitioners which creates market demand, driving those same practitioners to the KW Region,” said Velling.

Since the SAP operates on an uncapped model which ensures that students receive all the support they need whilst working with the extended health plan, which will cover off-campus care broadening the scope to registered healthcare practitioners without requiring an MD referral, Velling said that it should seriously support students needs here.

Moreover, all part-time and full-time students at the university will have access to the program at no extra cost from the coming term as the student bodies work to have the program completely integrated with UW campus wellness over the next few terms.


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