The Faculty Association held a town hall meeting in Corwin Pavilion yesterday afternoon issuing an open letter addressing their concerns with the recent transition to UC Care, a systemwide Preferred Provider Organization health insurance plan (PPO) created by the UC Office of the President specifically for UC faculty.
According to the letter, under UC Care, implemented earlier this year, faculty and staff do not have the same access to health care plans as staff on other UC campuses. The letter also states the Santa Barbara area also lacks tier-one health insurance options, which would provide generic medications instead of specialty and brand name medication.
President of the Faculty Association Nelson Lichtenstein said there are several issues with the UC Care plan as it applies to university faculty. According to Lichtenstein, one main problem was that Santa Barbara Cottage Hospital is not included in the UC Insurance Plan, and there is an extra cost to faculty who get care provided to them by the hospital.
“The UC Care health system is a set-up that is clearly not working. The most important hospital, the only one, is not part of that system,” Lichtenstein said. “We have staff that need to use the facility that can’t use it without it costing them more money.”
According to the letter, the transition to UC Care eliminated the university faculty’s access to Anthem/Blue Cross provided coverage, which the letter states poses numerous problems in the quality of faculty care.
“This transition has generated difficulties at all campuses, but at Santa Barbara the elimination of Anthem/Blue Cross and the introduction of UC Care as a replacement have resulted in a series of inequities related to level of care, the cost of care, and the availability and continuity of care,” the letter states.
The letter also states that while the Sansum Clinic, another regional healthcare provider for Santa Barbara, is included in UC Care as a tier-one option, the coverage it provides is “incomplete.”
“Sansum Clinic has signed on to UC Care, but only on a year by year basis. Santa Barbara Select HMO, an association of independent physicians serving our community, is not part of the UC Care tier one network,” the letter states. “Meanwhile, other UC campuses without medical centers, notably Santa Cruz and Riverside, have been able to convince officials in the Office of the President to negotiate with and secure UC Care tier-one coverage by local providers and hospitals in their communities.”
The letter additionally cites issues presented by signing up with Sansum, including long wait times for an initial appointment with a doctor, existing limits on the capacity of Sansum to provide access to faculty and the extra costs incurred by getting care at Santa Barbara Cottage Hospital as a tier-two provider.
Lichtenstein said that without the Cottage Hospital, patients are forced to go to Los Angeles for the next closest hospital.
“It’s the only quality hospital in the area before LA and for faculty suffering chronic illnesses, 30 percent of the faculty is above 60, they would be consigned to go to UCLA, which is not practical,” Lichtenstein said.
According to Lichtenstein, other UC Campuses are also having problems with the implementation of the new insurance policies at other campuses.
“Other campuses aren’t particularly happy either, Santa Cruz is one of them,” Lichtenstein said. “Turns out UC Health care hospitals aren’t designed to treat everyday illnesses, they’re for research and they’re good at it … even UCLA has problems with their rates going way up. We’re particularly pissed because our rates went up too but we aren’t getting access to the best hospital between L.A and San Francisco. UCOP should have thought about that before they made it system-wide.”
Faculty members such as professor of geography Ray Smith posed suggestions to solve the UC Health program’s lack of coverage.
“Going back to trying to do something independent, they could send a delegation to UCLA and see if they could send a satellite hospital to UCSB,” Smith said.
Faculty Advisor to the Chancellor’s Office Richard Watts said UC Care may eventually close down on its own.
“Come 2016 we could be on the edge of having UC Care so expensive it will run out of business anyhow,” Watts said.
During the discussion, questions were raised regarding the effectiveness of the letter to Chancellor Henry T. Yang. Several attendees said a possible first step would be to meet with Yang in a group setting to openly discuss the issues.
Professor of Physics Harry N. Nelson said the problem with the letter to Yang is that it did not produce responses.
“Given that there was a major problem last year, I’m kind of surprised they never want to come back and see what happened,” Nelson said. “If they actively don’t want to check back, tactically it’s unimaginable that they don’t care enough to see if their solution worked.”
The town hall ended with a general consensus to meet with Yang for further discussion of premiums and quality of care and begin taking action by the end of the open enrollment period for this year, toward changes in the upcoming year.
According to Lichtenstein, further action needs to be taken soon.
“I think the takeaway from this meeting is we weren’t just making accusations, we chose Kum-Kum [Bhavnani] to delegate a committee to explore our options,” Lichtenstein said. “Whether that is legal action or anything else, we need to begin to negotiate right now with UCOP so we can start to make decisions.”
[Correction: A previous version of this article incorrectly referred to Ray Smith as an entomology professor. He is actually a geography professor. The article has been updated accordingly.]