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‘Popcorn Cart’ Draws Attention to Morocco’s Student Health System

When Nouh Boufrou launched a funding campaign to help pay a former university colleague’s medical expenses, he did not expect that his initiative would reopen a discussion about Morocco’s university student health insurance system.

Boufrou’s friend was awaiting surgery at a private clinic in Marrakesh but could not pay the cost. So Boufrou, who works as a content creator and is a graduate of the University of Sidi Mohamed bin Abdullah, came up with the idea of using a popcorn cart to collect donations. Donors received a bag of popcorn in exchange for any amount they offered.

The idea caught on and received wide coverage in the news and on social media. Boufrou said he collected more than 164,000 dirhams (about $17,000), almost half the amount needed to save his friend’s life, in just ten days.

“Some donors bought a bag of popcorn for more than 10,000 dirhams ($1,060),” he told Al-Fanar Media.

The initiative also brought new attention to Morocco’s health insurance law for university students.

Compulsory Student Health Plan

Morocco has had a system of basic compulsory health insurance for students since 2016, after the issuance of Law 12-116 in 2015.

“More than 315,000 male and female students are registered this year in the insurance system, and 99 percent of them study in public university institutions.”

Aziz Khorsi
Head of communications at Morocco’s National Fund of Social Insurance Organizations

The system covers Moroccan and foreign students who are enrolled in a university or institution affiliated with the Ministry of Higher Education. Benefits include reimbursements for doctor’s visits, hospital treatments, surgeries, diagnostic tests, medicines, and other treatments and services.  Reimbursement rates range from 70 percent to 100 percent.

When this system was launched, it was expected to benefit 275,000 students, with coverage of about 110 million dirhams ($11.7 million). The government bears the cost for students at universities and vocational training institutions in the public sector, and students in the private sector pay an annual contribution of 400 dirhams (about $42).

But putting the law into effect has run into problems, students say. Universities provide electronic platforms for students to register for the health insurance programme, but not all of them sign up.

“The majority of students are not even aware of the existence of this programme,” said Abdelkarim Doubel, a student at Ibn Zohr University, in southern Morocco.

Doubel, who is registered with the student health system, attributed this lack of awareness to poor promotion of the programme in the media and the absence of communication campaigns to urge students to sign up.

Challenges for Students

Even for those who do register, “many challenges face students who wish to benefit from the health system,” he told Al-Fanar Media.

“The majority of students are not even aware of the existence of this programme. … Many challenges face students who wish to benefit from the health system.”

Abdelkarim Doubel
A student at Ibn Zohr University, in southern Morocco

Problems include obstacles in the administrative procedures for submitting requests for reimbursements, he said.

“I, personally, prepared a file for an illness, fulfilled all the conditions, and did not receive any compensation,” Doubel said. “Despite my correspondence with the concerned authorities, I have not received any response yet.”

The Moroccan government, however, considers the student insurance programme one of the most important student health projects that it has enacted.

Aziz Khorsi, head of communications at the National Fund of Social Insurance Organizations, told Al-Fanar Media: “More than 315,000 male and female students are registered this year in the insurance system, and 99 percent of them study in public university institutions.”

As of last October, Khorsi said, the fund had paid more than 10 million dirhams ($1.1 million) in compensation benefits to students this year. Thirty percent of that total was in compensation for medicines, he said.

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The total reflects a significant increase compared to the previous year, in which the fund spent 4.6 million dirhams ($490,000) as compensation to students.

As for letting students know about their health benefits, Khorsi said universities carry out communication campaigns in cooperation with the national office responsible for providing student services.

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By: Mohamed Akinou

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