In response to the UC Student Health Insurance Plan’s recent $57 million deficit, as projected by Alliant Insurance Services, the Student Health Advisory Committee hosted a forum in the University Center to discuss possible repercussions and solutions to the fiscal crisis.
Student representatives, administrators and staff members from Student Health Services discussed the future of the insurance plan, in addition to the various fiscal concerns surrounding its deficit, which adds up to $410 per student covered by the insurance plan. Although many participants agreed no specific entity is to blame, some pointed to issues of mismanagement within the university as well as its reliance on private insurance consulting firms. Currently, UC SHIP provides insurance policies to a total of 140,000 students at all 10 UC campuses statewide.
Senior Associate Dean of Students Debbie Fleming said the repercussions of future UC SHIP policy decisions will have immediate effects on the student population, as premiums may increase as early as next Fall Quarter.
UC SHIP representative Richard Artoul, a third-year pharmacology major, said students could see a 26 percent increase in premiums — as much as $350 for undergraduates and $700 for graduate students — for the 2013-14 academic year, in addition to a possible 67 percent increase in the next five years.
The massive deficit could be the result of miscalculations, including mistakes in consulting and the program’s flawed structure, according to Artoul, who said students may be left to compensate for the fiscal shortfall resulting from such poor oversight.
To make up for the monetary gap, students may be facing either a 67 percent increase in premiums over the next five years or a reduction of benefits, according to Mary Ferris, executive director of Student Health and clinic physician. Ferris said financial decisions, such as reducing certain coverage options, should be made by students rather than university officials.
“Students can make choices to not have the coverage be as generous or even to eliminate some parts of the coverage like the vision coverage or the dental coverage, and we want students to make that decision,” Ferris said. “We don’t necessarily think that people at the Office of the President should be making that decision.”
The campus’s insurance system did not encounter fiscal troubles prior to the consolidation of insurance systems at all 10 campuses in the UC system. These prior insurance plans held lower premiums and did not provide the same level of coverage, excluding dental and visual health care, according to Artoul.
However, Artoul said benefits have increased at a rate disproportionate to premium increase under UC SHIP, leaving a disparity between money flowing in and expenditures made to provide students with care.
“We had our own contract with a full insurer … and the premiums then were under a thousand dollars,” Artoul said. “But the benefits weren’t nearly as good — it was 80 percent student co-insurance [and] right now it’s 90 percent co-insurance. The deductible was $300; right now it’s $200.”
In spite of the many possible causes of the deficit discussed at the forum, Artoul said its actual cause is still unclear and as a result, financial responsibility has yet to be pinned on any specific entity.
“So the benefits have gone up significantly, and one thing people think is that the premiums have not gone up enough to compensate for that. But there are also people who think that there was mismanagement on the UC SHIP administrative side,” Artoul said. “There’s a lot of finger pointing right now, and it’s not really clear what actually happened.”
Other issues discussed at the forum include the ongoing repercussions of Obamacare, which requires each individual to hold a certain level of minimum coverage to avoid taxation, as well as lifetime caps set on UC SHIP policies.
A suggested increase in the UC SHIP premium of $30 to $50 per student per year would eliminate UC SHIP’s $400,000 lifetime cap, which can potentially leave students suffering from serious illnesses with the dilemma of figuring out how to pay for treatment.
Christian Yoder, member of the Graduate Teachers Student Union and first-year Ph.D. candidate for communication, said such a dilemma imposes an unnecessary and unfair burden on ill students.
“The point of health insurance … is to take care of situations that are devastating, that are potentially life-changing — not to pay for those doctor visits that you have two or three times a year,” Yoder said. “The reason why the health insurance is there is to take care of people who get into these kind of situations that are life-threatening … like cancer or Crohn’s disease or whatever kind of major illness that might cause you to bust through those caps very quickly.”
Since all financial aid decisions for the upcoming year must be made by April 19, Artoul said he encourages students to voice opinions through any forum possible.
For more information, students can attend the next Student Health Advisory Committee meeting on March 12 from 5 p.m. to 7 p.m. in the Student Health Conference Room or email Artoul at email@example.com.