University of California campus programs such as Student Health Service are bracing for a budget cut to be announced in early January that could eliminate up to 15 percent of general state funding and lead to increased cost of student health services.
The governor’s office told UC and other state offices to prepare sample budgets in which 3, 5, 10 or 15-percent of general state funds would be cut. To prepare for the worst-case scenario, programs within the Division of Student Affairs, including SHS, have chosen to plan for the 15-percent cut.
At UCSB, most of the SHS budget comes from registration lock-in fees and SHS fees for general services; less than 1 percent comes from university general funds. Nonetheless, the burden of cuts would be distributed evenly campuswide and SHS Director Cynthia Bowers said her department would feel the strain.
“Fundamentally, we are looking at whether or not any more efficiencies can be made in our operations and still do everything that we do,” she said.
To compensate for decreased funding, Bowers expects to put maintenance and capital improvement projects on hold for a short time. Another option is to increase fees for office visits, lab processing and physical therapy.
SHS has given priority to maintaining availability of psychiatric services, continuing alcohol and other drug prevention efforts and making primary care services available to non-University Student Health Insurance Plan students at a reasonable cost, Bowers said
“One goal is to preserve people,” she said. “Because we are a medical facility, the highest priority is to do whatever is in accordance with the standard care of the community.”
To get student opinion on the issue, Bowers opened discussions with the Student Health Advisory Committee and Insurance Advisory Committee.
“I am really hoping that we can have some good cooperative effort about what students really want to see happen,” Bowers said.
In the spring campus election, students may have an opportunity to vote on whether or not to raise the SHS quarterly lock-in fee or increase visitation fees, Bowers said. Currently, all UCSB students are required to pay a lock-in fee of $12 for undergraduate and $29 for graduate students.
If fees are raised, students might find prices too high and go elsewhere to receive health care, Bowers said. She wants the services to remain convenient to students, but if funding decreases and staff members cannot be paid and decide to quit, services may become harder to obtain.
“That’s kind of a trade-off between paying up front, like an insurance plan, or increasing fees,” Bowers said. “Every time you increase fees, you decrease access for students.”
However, if lock-in fees do not increase, students may be charged more per visit. Freshman political science major Fernando Ramirez said increased cost is unfortunate, but that this would be a more fair solution.
“If it’s a big increase, it’s a big deal,” he said. “I don’t think [lock-in fees are] fair if you don’t use [SHS].”
Senior English and communication major Anika Carter said that raising lock-in fees would be the only way to maintain the current quality of student health.
“I think it’s necessary to raise fees because people get sick on campus and they need the proper care in order to take care of themselves,” she said.