Info courtesy of Michael Robertson. See full graph here:

Info courtesy of Michael Robertson. See full graph here:

Santa Barbara’s high cost of health care coupled with the wide range of services offered by Gaucho Health Insurance (GHI) mean undergraduate students pay more for health insurance than students attending any other campus at the UC.

The UC system has a base standard for student health coverage that is required for every campus, a program called the UC Student Health Insurance Plan (UC SHIP) run by the UC Office of the President. Another option is for campuses to purchase a plan with required benefits, mandated by the UC, through a separate insurance carrier. Currently, six campuses participate in UC SHIP, while UCSB, UC Berkeley, UC Riverside and UC Davis purchase plans from outside providers.

Each campus administration separately decides on how the base standard will be met and if it includes additional coverage not mandated by UCOP. Students currently pay $2,569 per year for coverage under GHI, while students at campuses such as UC Riverside and UC Irvine pay around $1,390 per year for their coverage. In Spring 2013, Chancellor Henry T. Yang announced the university’s departure from UC SHIP in favor of the independently designed GHI.

According to UCOP spokesperson Brooke Converse, the difference in geographical location of campuses also contributes to the varying health costs.

“The cost of health care varies greatly by geographical region — Riverside has one of the lowest-cost medical markets in the state, and Santa Barbara has one of the highest,” Converse said in an email. “Cost differences also depend on plan utilization and plan design — how often students use the plan.”

According to Student Health Director Mary Ferris, the high price of GHI is the consequence of a variety of factors, primarily including decisions made by the GHI advisory committee, a campus-wide body that meets each fall to review the coverage options available under GHI.

GHI currently offers coverage for vision and dental treatment, which are not required by UC standards, but were deemed necessary by the GHI advisory committee, according to Ferris. Ferris also said the GHI advisory committee made the decision to make prices the same across the board for all students, making undergraduate health costs slightly higher.

UCSB is the only UC campus in which health insurance for undergraduates and graduate students costs the same.

“Our plan is more expensive that other campuses because we decided to make one rate for all students, no matter whether they are graduate or undergraduate, or whether they are on medical leaves of absence,” Ferris said. “This spreads the cost among everyone, and it is a philosophical decision that the GHI Advisory Committee felt strongly about so that students who were ill would not be penalized by higher costs.”

According to Ferris, the recent changes made to national health insurance law by the Affordable Care Act also contribute to the rise in national health insurance costs this year. The legislation requires insurance companies to cover specific benefits, which resulted in raised premiums across all providers, according to Ferris.

Ferris said although these changes raise premium costs, they also expand benefits for students.

“The Affordable Care Act requires a minimum set of benefits,” Ferris said in an email. “There are no ‘maximums’ for costly illnesses anymore, and all birth control costs are 100% covered.”

UC Riverside Director of Media Relations Kris Lovekin said UCR uses a plan called UCR SHIP, a plan specific to UCR and separate from UC SHIP, that their student health advisory committee designed.

Lovekin said similar to UCSB, UC Riverside chose to veer away from the central UC SHIP plan in favor of an independent program with less “financial risk.”
“Our students on a Student Health Advisory Committee voted to go with a fully insured program,” Lovekin said in an email. “They felt that UC SHIP was in deficit and they did not want that financial risk.”

Ferris said students were frustrated by the lengthier, more difficult waiver process this year, which the university has little control over. The only portion of the waiver that the university can change is the distance from campus that a care facility must be found. Ferris said discussions for the details of next year’s plan are underway, and the GHI advisory committee is keeping expense in mind.

According to Ferris, efforts to cut the cost of health care of GHI may result in fewer benefits for students.

“We are committed to reducing the cost,” Ferris said. “Unfortunately that means some benefits may need to be changed, such as the deductibles or the co-payments for care, but students and UCSB administrators will seriously consider the consequences of any changes.”