URSU to switch healthcare provider with little student input

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URSU is at it again/Jaecy Bells

Studencare soon to be replaced by Gallivan

The University of Regina Students’ Union, without engaging in a competitive bidding process or allowing for input from constituents, has decided to change student health insurance providers for the coming year. Studentcare, which has served the student body for the past 16 years, will be replaced by Waterloo-based student health insurance company Gallivan.

A letter obtained by the Carillon from Lev Bukhman, the CEO of Studentcare, addressed to URSU Board chair Victor Oriola, raises concerns about how the Board made their decision to award a contract of this magnitude entirely behind closed doors and with no minutes for the public to consult.

“I am writing to express my deep concern about the University of Regina Students’ Union (URSU) decision to award a $6 million group health and dental plan contract to an alternate plan administrator without due process,” Bukhman begins. “URSU has not been transparent or accountable with public funds, exercised due diligence, consulted with its members or held an open and fair competitive bidding or tendering process. This failure of governance would likely constitute the largest untendered contract ever awarded at the University of Regina.”

Currently, full-time students pay $145.67 a semester to be covered under the Student Health and Dental Plan.

Oriola says he believes in his predecessors’ process in deciding to award the contract to Gallivan during the in-camera session of the April 9, 2019 board meeting.

“The Board then would have done their due diligence,” he said. “They would have assessed the matter before them, and made the decision that they believe is best for the organization. And my job as an executive is to provide counsel and advice to the board, but most importantly to implement what their vision is. And seeing as this is a directive that had been issued to the Executive Committee before me, my sole responsibility in this case is to fulfill the wishes of the Board.”

However, while Oriola is committed to executing this plan under his leadership, he would not comment on how much the plan will cost, how services will change or whether he believes it was appropriate for the board to change service providers without informing the wider student body until after the decision was made.

“You’re asking me to speak to decisions that were made before I was there,” he said.

In his letter, Bukhman raises the issue that the new contract – scheduled to come into effect in September, 2020 according to him – will be enacted over 16 months and two board terms since the decision to switch was made. Despite this time delay and institutional turnover, Bukhman maintains the board has a responsibility to the campus community to engage in an open bidding process.

“Simply put, URSU has a legal and moral duty to its members to engage in due diligence and due process to ensure that students’ best interests are protected and student money is spent wisely,” he said. “Failure to do so exposes URSU, its officers, staff and Board members to various forms of liability. The importance of integrity, transparency, and accountability cannot be overstated [. . .] Under the URSU constitution, it falls to the Board to ensure the integrity of URSU.”

Oriola says the tone of his discussions with Studentcare about terminating the contract has been what anyone might expect in this situation.

“Well, they disagreed with our assessments, with the assessments of the Board,” he said. “And they asked us to reconsider. The Board has indicated that they do not have much of an interest in reconsidering.”

Current Board member Jacq Brasseur says, when Studentcare representatives made a presentation to the URSU board in the Fall, they were not taking the decision well.

“During a meeting where they were meant to provide an annual report presentation, [the Studentcare representatives] spent part of the presentation (what I perceived to be) berating the Board about their decision not to renew the contract and that they did it in a way that was very unprofessional and it felt manipulative, taking advantage of a new Board of inexperienced student leaders,” they said.

As of writing there has been no formal communication to the membership from URSU about the change in providers.

Former URSU President Shawn Wiskar, who served during the time period where URSU was making these decisions, recalls the students’ union looking into multiple insurance provider options before settling on Gallivan.

“I know we looked at the big providers,” he said. “We were looking at Studentcare, and then we looked at Gallivan, obviously, and then there was also a consideration for Green Shield – but because they had a very limited customer base, I don’t think our conversation got very far with them [. . .] We effectively had three companies in mind and then, through informal conversations with them and then them giving us quoted prices, it became clear that there were really only two competitors.”

Wiskar says the Board ultimately chose to award the contract to Gallivan because it is significantly less expensive while providing comparable or better services. When asked if the decision should have gone to the student body, he said the change was small enough not to warrant broader discussion.

“It’s not necessarily something that the students need to have a voice in,” he said. “Because they don’t deal with the day-to-day logistics, it would be hard to solicit feedback on how you feel the providers are doing on the company side, when they don’t have experience with that.”

Concluding his letter, Bukhman makes three calls to action: “Revers[e] this improperly made decision to [award] a secret $6 million contract; engag[e] in a robust consultation process with students; [and follow] due process by engaging the University of Regina Purchasing Department to execute a professional, transparent and fair competitive tendering process.”

Access to quality healthcare is a key concern for many University of Regina students, and if Gallivan provides an improvement on current coverage at a lower cost in the next academic year, that can only be celebrated. But $6 million is not a trivial expenditure, and healthcare is not a trivial service. The Board’s decisions to forgo a formal, public bidding process and delay in informing the student body raises serious questions about how and why they arrived at their conclusion.

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