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Unis back international students’ medical rights

A roundtable forum will be held this month to advocate for the right of international students to access public healthcare. By Susan Woodward

International students in Australia should enjoy the same rights to access public healthcare as citizens, says University of Queensland deputy vice-chancellor (international) Dr Anna Ciccarelli.

Ciccarelli said she supported international students who were fighting a controversial Queensland government decision that currently denied them specialist healthcare in some public hospitals. Along with peers from Griffith University and Queensland University of Technology (QUT), she is pressuring the state’s leaders to get on board, inviting representatives to a roundtable on the issue, which she will hold this month.

“The director-general of the Department of Premier and Cabinet is aware of what’s happening and the concerns,” Ciccarelli said. “The view of the three Brisbane universities is that we would endeavour to strongly engage. It’s not a matter that can remain ambiguous and unresolved.”

News that Royal Brisbane Hospital had started to refuse non-emergency obstetric and gynaecological care for pregnant international students sparked an outcry late last year. The students were deemed “ineligible” for the care in a Queensland Health memo, prompting Tertiary Education Minister Senator Chris Evans to write to former Qld Premier Anna Bligh, asking her to reverse the decision. The policy appears to be motivated by budgetary constraints.

The Council of International Students Australia (CISA) has uncovered the same problems occurring in other states, especially Victoria. CISA president Arfa Noor has been championing efforts to give all international students — who pay Australian taxes and carry private coverage as a visa condition — the same healthcare access that citizens receive through Medicare.

Ciccarelli said she agreed with CISA’s position. She spoke on international student rights during a panel discussion on public perceptions of the students at a Universities Australia conference last month. She said that prior to late last year, antenatal care for the students in Queensland had been unproblematic; the care been shared between a student’s doctor and the closest public hospital. Then came the policy change at Royal Brisbane. “That then seemed to be followed up by the Mater [Hospital], but we still have Ipswich Hospital accepting referrals. How do you have a coherent state position on this?” she said.

Ciccarelli said she would hold a meeting with Griffith, QUT, Queensland Health and the insurer, OSHC Worldcare, this month to begin to find out.

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