UCSB staff and faculty members are joining together on a petition in protest of a recent UC-wide employee health insurance overhaul that could bar many university employees from visiting Santa Barbara’s two major healthcare providers.
The UC’s revamped medical benefits system, set to go into effect in 2014, will drop all Anthem plans, as well as a Health Net Full HMO, and instead offer a new three-tiered system called UC Care and a Blue Shield Health Savings Plan in addition to the various other plans that are already included.
UCSB employees are concerned because UC Care — the only Tier 1 PPO plan available under the new options — relies heavily on campus medical centers, a resource that UCSB lacks. And since the UC has so far failed to come to an agreement with either Santa Barbara Cottage Hospital or Sansum Clinic for accepting Tier 1 plans, employees using this option will be forced to go to Lompoc, Santa Maria or Ventura for medical attention.
UCSB employees’ opposition came to a head during a town hall forum hosted by the Academic Senate last week in the University Center. UCSB Faculty Association President and history professor Nelson Lichtenstein said the UC’s decision to cut down on costs by dropping coverage comes at the expense of hundreds of university employees’ medical needs.
“People were pissed and quite upset,” Lichtenstein said. “Some people have dialysis every few days, and some have doctors who’ve been covering conditions they’ve had for years … faculty association says the UC should act more like an insurance company.”
The UC Care Tier 1 plan is the least expensive of the options offered and includes a $20 co-pay PPO plan. The specifics of the plan are currently being negotiated amongst UC medical centers, but because UCSB is one of only two UC campuses without a medical center, it is in the minority when it comes to systemwide accommodations.
UC Office of the President spokesperson Shelly Meron said settling on negotiations with Cottage and Sansum would cause all UC employees across the board to pay higher premiums for “just one school in Santa Barbara.”
“We are aware that Cottage Health System is the main provider in Santa Barbara. We know that people like to go there. We want to still be able to offer them access to that at a reasonable rate,” Meron said, “and so this was the middle ground — offering Cottage as the second tier of UC Care or through the Health Net Blue and Gold Plan.”
Meron said the second tier plan includes Cottage Hospital at a charge of 20 percent of services with a $5,000 cap, and the third tier will allow employees to choose any provider but will charge 50 percent of the cost.
And despite deep-seated disagreement from UCSB employees, Meron said UCOP doesn’t plan on budging anytime soon.
“My understanding is that the plans are pretty set for 2014,” Meron said. “We’re certainly open to hearing from Cottage in the future and hope that we can work out a deal down the line.”
Like many other UCSB employees who disagree with UC’s new health insurance plan, Lichtenstein said the faculty association hopes the UC will be fair to its employees at UCSB and subsidize the high cost of health care in Santa Barbara.
“Sansum and Cottage Hospital are driving a hard bargain, but the UC should’ve known they had a problem before they switched over,” Lichtenstein said. “They were negotiating it but couldn’t reach an agreement until quite late.”
Chancellor Henry T. Yang said the new UC health insurance plan severely disadvantages UCSB amongst all other UC employees.
“We are deeply concerned that the Tier 1 provider network for UC Care does not currently include the physicians and services of our local clinic and hospital,” Yang said.
Yang also said he and his staff are making every possible effort to ensure that negotiations quickly result in a solution that allows all community members to access the healthcare that best fits their needs.
“My administrative colleagues and I, in consultation with our faculty, staff, and community members, are working intensively with UC systemwide office negotiators and our local providers to bridge this serious gap,” Yang said.