Letter causes confusion

The International Service Desk at the University of Groningen has seen an increase in visits during the past weeks. The cause: a letter landing in international students’ inboxes reminding them that they must have health insurance.
By Nina Yakimova

‘You are registered as a resident in the Netherlands. However, you do not have health insurance. It is therefore important that you take immediate action. If you do not, then you will be fined’, the letter reads.

‘When I received the letter, I was a bit surprised and annoyed’, says Andrey Fadejev, an international business student from Lithuania studying at the RUG. ‘No one has told me anything about this health insurance before.’ As an international student who does not work, he uses a European Health Insurance Card (EHIC). ‘I have contacted the CAK because there is no way I’m going to pay a 350 euro fine to them, and I don’t need a Dutch insurance at the moment’, he says.

In order to confirm that his EHIC is sufficient, Fadejev was advised to complete an online survey and report the results to CAK, which works on behalf of the government to monitor insurance coverage. ‘In this way, we can register the students with EHIC as insured in our database and avoid having to fine them’, says Neeltje Knaap, a client service operator at CAK. Although international students are most likely to need to fill it in, the survey is only available in Dutch.

Recent arrivals

It is not clear exactly how many RUG students have received the letter, but exchange students and other foreign students who have recently moved to the city are likeliest to find an envelope in their mailbox because they may not have registered with a health insurance provider yet. As of the fall semester of the 2016-2017 academic year, 1,838 new international degree students and 1,085 exchange students enrolled at the RUG, including EU and non-EU students.

The organisation behind the letter, written in English, is CAK. However, their website is only available in Dutch.

‘We cannot give a definitive number of all students who have received a letter, because we don’t target students exclusively’, says Knaap. According to Knaap, CAK contacts people who have registered for a burgerservicenummer (social security number, BSN) but do not appear to have registered for health insurance. The organisation investigates the insurance status of students twice a year: once around the beginning of the year and another time toward the middle of the year.

Because health insurance in the Netherlands is mandatory, uninsured students may face fines. However, in some cases, the public health insurance in a student’s home country is sufficient. That is where it gets confusing. European Health Insurance Cards, unlike the Dutch public health insurances, are not indicated in the municipality personal records database (BRP). That means that virtually every European student at the RUG could be the recipient of a CAK letter.

Dutch health insurance for students

The Dutch health care system requires everyone to be sufficiently covered. European students can choose from public and private health insurance providers and may, in some cases, use the healthcare insurance from their home countries. Non-EU students can have a private insurance policy from their home countries. If a student is planning to work during their studies or do a paid internship, they are obliged to register with a public provider. The same is true for students who stay in the country for more than one year after graduating.

European students younger than 30 years of age who stay in the country only for study purposes and/or an unpaid internship can use their health insurance from their home countries.

According to the online platform Study in Holland, the best option for non-European students, including non-European exchange students, is a private healthcare insurance, for example Covered Abroad or AON.

* Correction: In the original version of this article, the department where students were going for advice was referred to as the International Student Desk. The correct name of the department is the International Service Desk.



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