~ Say insurance issues still persist ~
THE NETHERLANDS--Students in the Netherlands are collectively decrying the functioning of Student Support Services St. Maarten (S4) and accuse the foundation of burdening students with heavy fines that were incurred when S4 botched its responsibilities concerning their insurance coverage in Holland.
The students say S4, as a result of no checks by government and shoddy administration, is a foundation that is running amok and should be held responsible for causing students unnecessary worry while exams approach, due to its "lack of attention to details."
In response, S4 Director Marva Richardson said much effort has been undertaken by S4 to inform the students and their parents regarding insurance matters. In addition to the various information campaigns carried out on St. Maarten, all students studying in the Netherlands were duly informed through various channels (see related story).
In providing a detailed account of their trouble with insurance in Holland, the students explained that in early 2011 some students had been informed that their insurance policies were being switched over and that a new broker was being introduced, without further consultation with them.
Prior to this announcement, students had been insured with VPZ Assuradeuren, via their intermediary Boogard Assurantien B.V. VPZ was taken over by a larger insurance provider, Aevitae. "When changes such as this are made, their sheer impact on individual and company-wide insurance policies is significant, thus requiring early notification of the alteration. Those of us with a Human Resource background can attest to that," the students said.
"So it is safe to say that S4 received notification of the corporate takeover at or around the time that it was made public knowledge. In fact, after conducting some simple research of our own, it is clear to see that the PUBLIC announcement of the Aevitae take-over of VPZ was made on May 27, 2010. Officially, the take-over occurred in January 2010; the closing of the deal was finalized that May. There was no time for concerns to be aired, as the letter from S4 seemed to be merely a formality and "your insurance has been cancelled" letters soon began arriving in mailboxes across the country," they added.
The students added that at varying times after the announcement was received (and subsequently spread to those who for some reason had never received the official S4 communication), some of them received three items "in sporadic succession:" a letter stating that their insurance policy had been cancelled by S4, a letter from their new broker, Noord-Nederlandse Assurantiemakelaars B.V. (NNAM) stating that their "inboedel" (furniture, etc) was now insured via them, and finally, a new poliskaart (policy card) from VPZ with their 'new' student insurance policy. "No further information from S4 was provided, and thus it was believed that the issue had been handled accordingly," the students said.
Knowing that Dutch insurance laws do not account for the fact that there are Dutch citizens residing in countries overseas, the students stressed the need to check on the employment status of St. Maarten students before switching their insurance policy for one very important reason: "Because of this loophole in the insurance law, we can receive the otherwise non-existent 'studentenverzekering' (student insurance, which is not actively sold to the Dutch students because they were born and bred in the Netherlands), as long as we do not work.
"To this day, we have not received a policy description of exactly what is covered by this 'student insurance.' All we have been told is that it requires us not to have employment. The instant we obtain employment, our policy agreement is null and void and we have to request an actual basisverzekering (basic insurance). CVZ (College Voor Zorgverzekering) then takes notice that there is a 'foreign national' working under an insurance policy that is developed for just that: foreign nationals, who come to study and then leave. Not live, work, and grow here in this country," they said.
They said what followed next could simply be described as "panic and pandemonium." Several students living in Den Haag/The Hague received notices and warnings from CVZ that they were uninsured. The letters also stated that if they did not rectify this matter within three months, they would be faced with a fine of up to 350 euros.
"Slightly panicked, we called S4 and were told that the situation was under control, and to forward our CVZ letters to them. But students talk. We have known each other from MPC/Academy/St. Dominic days, and there is always Facebook. Soon it was all anyone could talk about: the insurance switch had been botched, and many of us were now walking liabilities. The usual S4 first-aid kit came out to placate the masses, and one or two students mentioned receiving a promise of reimbursement once they had paid the fine. Others were informed that S4 would "regel" (handle) everything, and the situation would be rectified. Again, silence swept over the masses and, since the letters stopped, we stopped as well," they said.
They continued: "However, we now come to November 2011, when, not surprisingly, the letters have started again. This time, however, CVZ is further empowered by the threat of the Centraal Justitieel Incassobureau, under the command of the Ministerie van Veiligheid en Justitie. Those of us who recalled the promises made by S4 that the situation had been dealt with placed angry calls to the foundation, only to be referred to Noord-Nederlandse Assurantiemakelaars B.V. (NNAM).
"NNAM, in no uncertain terms, informed us that we had to pay the fine, and then referred us to S4 for further clarification. Naturally, the foundation agreed that we had to pay the fine (for those that received a response; some are still waiting), because we 'shouldn't have been working' anyway.
"The thing that S4 neglects to remember is that as recently as this year, throughout the VOBAS course and upon our arrival, they were encouraging us to find jobs to supplement our income. How ironic then that as soon as the fines began rolling in, they would change their tune and blame us for having the very jobs they encouraged us to get. The difficulty here is that in the Netherlands, you cannot alter any insurance plan until January of the following year. Many of us have started paying the fines, if only to stay on the right side of the Dutch bureaucratic machine."
They also asked why, just three days after they had met with Vice Minister Plenipotentiary Richard Panneflek about the current insurance issues, a news bulletin about their insurance was sent out by S4.
"Even more miraculous is that students who never received the initial warning about the insurance issues found that their e-mail addresses had magically reappeared in S4's database, just for this news bulletin. By their own admission in this news bulletin and via telephone conversations, the new addition of "Geen ZVW" on our insurance cards "betekent dus niet dat je niet verzekerd bent, maar, kort gezegd, dat je geen basisverzekering hebt." For those who do not speak Dutch, that means that we are insured...but we don't have a basic insurance package, which means we are not insured according to AWBZ regulations. Funny, in a country where every Dutch citizen is required to hold a basisverzekering, we have no basisverzekering."
"How is it possible that those with the power and influence to negotiate on our behalf, so that we are indeed recognized as Dutch citizens coming to this country to study, live and work, did not do so?"
The students had a few suggestions for S4 and government to avoid the situation in the future. Firstly, they said, S4 should conduct a simple data collection exercise and this time ensure that it truly captures the data requested. "We should not have to send you our information three times before you finally log it.
"Secondly, mobilize with the SSC (Curaçao) and the Aruba House to "do what you were put there to do": approach CVZ, AWBZ and SVB collectively, and inform them that the students are Dutch citizens. Fight against the fines that you helped invite with shoddy administration and disregard for the fact that we are not viewed as Dutch citizens by the deciding bodies of the Netherlands' insurance structure. Once you've done this, appeal to the government that you're meant to report to and advise them to work together with the Netherlands to add exceptions to their insurance law and thus recognize us as the Dutch citizens we are.
"It may sound as if we are giving you orders; if that is the way it must be taken for there to be some action, then so be it, as this insurance mess has dragged on since February. We have realized that, if left to the foundation, chaos would reign, and when we bring our concerns, we are told that we're spoiled. We do not think that the desire to be able to sleep peacefully at night with the knowledge that we are properly insured means that we are spoiled. We are not spoiled for wanting the 'new era of student support' promised to us at the time of S4's inception by then-Commissioner of Education and now Prime Minister, Mrs. Sarah Wescot-Williams. This 'new era' has strongly resembled the Dark Ages, and we are quite tired of it.
"We were raised to question everything around us, and yet when we voiced our concerns in the past, we were berated, both privately and publicly, by those who claim they have our best interest at heart (yes, we're referring to that radio interview some years ago with the former director of S4, in which she publicly berated a student who had made what she claimed were "false complaints"). And we believe the time has come for us to unite for the change we want to see in not just S4, but on our island's mentality towards us on a whole. All we want is to be insured according to the law, as our citizenship accords us."