UC Santa Barbara’s Student Health Service logged a total of 49,197 student visits between Fall 2022 and Spring 2023. On average, each student had 1.9 encounters with SHS during this period. And, the majority of these students were covered under the University of California Student Health Insurance Plan.

In the United States, healthcare spending accounts for 17.3% of the GDP, according to official estimates by the National Health Expenditure Accounts for 2022. In the same year, the total healthcare spending amongst the American population was $4.5 trillion, equaling an average of $13,493 spent per person. However, as one of the primary sources of healthcare for UCSB students, Student Health Service (SHS) makes a wide range of medical services readily accessible to students.

“We provide full spectrum primary care, behavioral health, physical therapy, pharmacy, laboratory, and x-ray services. We also provide free access to social workers, nurse consultation and the Alcohol and Drug program for all students regardless of having UC SHIP, which is unique to student health compared to other healthcare systems in the area,” said fourth-year biological sciences major and Student Advisor to the SHS Executive Director Graci Novack.

SHS data on student visits per quarter from Fall 2021 to Summer 2023 revealed a seasonality trend in visits. Summer quarters experience lower usage volume, likely because there are fewer students present at on campus and in Isla Vista. 

Students tend to access Student Health more during the fall and spring quarters compared to the winter and summer quarters and most frequently seek medical attention for the following six reasons: 1) immunization, 2) screenings for sexually transmitted infections, 3) throat pain, 4) dysuria, 5) acute pharyngitis and 6) acute vaginitis. 

All UCSB students are required to be enrolled in a health insurance plan and are automatically enrolled in UC Student Health Insurance Plan (UC SHIP). Students can choose to opt out of UC SHIP if they already have a comparable private health insurance plan that meets UC requirements. This choice between private health insurance and UC SHIP insurance can present a significant challenge for students as they must weigh various factors such as cost and coverage.

UC SHIP was started in 2011 in response to a decision by the UC Regents that made health insurance a non-academic condition for enrollment. In 2018, UCSB became the last UC to participate in UC SHIP because of the advantages it provided students over private insurance, according to Novack. 

“We feel that UC SHIP provides great and affordable coverage for students with benefits that exceed many insurance plans on the market,” she said. 

Novack added that UC SHIP users get prepaid access to care at the UCSB Student Health Center for any medical situation.

“UC SHIP is an insurance plan that covers visits to the E.R. ($250 copay) and urgent care ($25 copay). UC SHIP also provides dental (Delta Dental Providers), vision (Blue View Vision) and outside pharmacy coverage,” she said. 

Before 2021, UC SHIP enrollment hovered around 13,000 students but has since surpassed 19,000 students, according to Novack. 

“Increased numbers of students admitted to UCSB and positive publicity regarding the UC SHIP plan are likely variables that have contributed to increased enrollment,” she said. “Students and parents have also learned about the great benefits of UC SHIP and have subsequently decided not to waive the plan.”

The typical cost of UC SHIP — a platinum plan — for undergraduate students is $1,064.00 per quarter, in contrast to the cost of private health insurance plans. 

Several factors such as age, location, number of people covered and tier affect the cost of private health insurance plans. Individuals can choose a health plan tier that fits their needs. The bronze plan offers the lowest monthly premium but the highest deductibles and costs an average of $348 per month — roughly $860 for 10 weeks. On the other end of the spectrum, the platinum plan is around $454 per month — roughly $1047.70 for 10 weeks. 

Students may be eligible for free or lower-cost UC SHIP covered by the UC Health Insurance Grant, which may be noted on the financial aid letter. 

However, UC SHIP still has limitations compared to private health insurance plans. 

“I experienced a major fracture in my foot during an intramural basketball game at night. Student Health was closed, so I went straight to Cottage Hospital Emergency. The E.R. was not fully covered by UC SHIP, and I had to pay a copayment,” UCSB second-year communication major Chloe Choi, who is currently enrolled in UC SHIP said.

Additionally, to see a specialist, there is a UC SHIP referral requirement. Students must get a referral from SHS to get medical care if they are within a 50-mile radius of campus. However, according to Student Health Service, the referral requirement excludes “emergency room care, urgent care clinics, pediatric care, obstetrics services, gynecological care, Lyra Health, and Live Health Online virtual visits.” 

Choi said that she had to request a referral from Student Health to make an orthopedic appointment. 

“The ER referred me to an orthopedic specialist in Santa Barbara, but for me to get an appointment with them, I needed a referral from Student Health,” she said. “The processing time usually takes a couple of days. I called student health  to get it sooner since my appointment was the next day, and they were very helpful.” 

The Summary of Benefits and Coverage (SBC) document available on the SHS website can help students choose an insurance plan that fits their medical goals. The SBC explains how a health insurance plan would share the cost of covered health care services. 

Olivia Nguyen contributed reporting.