The University of California’s Student Health Insurance Plan (UC SHIP) is preparing to take a major premium increase. Although the plan aims to provide more affordable health care for enrolled students — increases in premiums, lifetime caps and costly dependent coverage is sending students and faculty to Sacramento to fight for a better UC SHIP.
The UC SHIP offers primary care, urgent care, nutrition services, an on-site pharmacy and laboratory, counseling and psychiatric services and allergy immunotherapy to all UC students.
According to a newsletter from the UC Student and Workers Union (UAW), UC executives are reporting a loss of over $57 million in the student health financial plan due to miscalculations. This deficit is said to be paid for by an increase of up to $600 per student enrolled in UC SHIP. Because this decision has not been made final, students throughout the UC system have been rallying and protesting to stop the premium increases. A council of chancellors from the UC System will decide by June 1 whether to stay with UC SHIP or implement an alternative student health insurance plan.
At the protest held in front of the Cowell Student Health Center on Feb. 13, students and faculty stood together to make their voice heard. Josh Brahinsky, an activist for the UAW, said the protest was planned ahead of time by a group of students and faculty.
“The folks who organized this rally got together last week and said, ‘Let’s all do a rally.’ We started with 20 people a week ago and now we have 100 here today,” Brahinsky said.
Protesters picketing in front of the Health Center walked around in gauze casts and on crutches to demand changes to their health care plan. Protesters called for an elimination of lifetime caps as well as more affordable dependent coverage.
“I imagine a system that does not profit over the misery of many, where no one is left without care and everyone is cared for,” said protester and undergraduate student David Padilla. “I know that this is only a vision, but if we do not make steps toward changing it today, we are doomed to keep perpetuating a broken system.”
The UAW’s newsletter also stated that the UC management has been exploiting a loophole in the Affordable Care Act — popularly known as Obamacare — to avoid the banned ceilings on health care payments, thus denying coverage of lifesaving care to UC students.
While Obamacare requires all group health plans to prohibit lifetime coverage limits, self-insured student health plans like UC SHIP have been exempt from this mandate. UC SHIP currently limits enrollees to a lifetime cap of as little as $400,000 and an annual prescription drug cap of $10,000.
One of the students who spoke at the protest was Micha Rahder, a graduate student who relies heavily on her health care plan.
“Shame on the UC, shame for exploiting a loophole in the health care system to slap a charge on the back of students and workers,” said Rahder as she spoke out of a megaphone at the protest.
Rahder has held many jobs at UC Santa Cruz. She is a teaching assistant and a teaching fellow for the anthropology department and has coached women’s rugby. She has been diagnosed with a neurological condition that has forced her to reach her lifetime coverage before she could graduate. Rahder has been required to pay over $20,000 out-of-pocket in medical bills because UC SHIP has removed her from their plan, claiming that she’s run out of benefits. Rahder has plans to take a leave of absence from UC Santa Cruz to move back to Canada, where she’s originally from.
“Financially, health wise, my education, everything has just sort of … I’m trying to think of a word you can put in the newspaper. I’ve been completely fucked by that lifetime cap,” Rahder said.
Many UCSC students also have dependants that need health coverage as well. For those that do, health coverage can cost upwards of $200,000 a year. Said amount can increase by up to $900 for dependants if plans for premium increases are confirmed.
House Leader Nancy Pelosi has also voiced her support for the UC and has signed a letter addressed to UC President Mark Yudof calling for a reform in student health care coverage. Pelosi speaks on behalf of the White House as she says they understand the UC is not subject to the ban on lifetime limit, but they are troubled by the UC’s not adapting the industry standard of no coverage limits.
“We urge the university to work with your students, workers and their representatives in ensuring UC’s health benefits are fair and maintain parity with industry standards like lifetime and annual limits,” said Pelosi in the letter to Yudof, speaking on behalf of concerned Congressmembers. “UC students and workers should have the access to the same health care protections that millions of other students, student workers and Americans already enjoy.”