Mirroring its salience on the national stage, health care reform has also become a pressing issue for graduate students in the University of California system.
The graduate and professional workgroup of the University of California Student Association (UCSA), a coalition of student governments, has made a system-wide Graduate Student Health Insurance Plan (GSHIP) its primary campaign for the last two years. The workgroup expressed concerns over the cost, quality and extent of its coverage.
The UCSA’s efforts, along with demand from the various campuses’ Graduate Student Associations (GSAs), exerted pressure on the UC Office of the President (UCOP). In August of 2008, their efforts resulted in the creation of a system-wide GSHIP workgroup.
The workgroup consists of strategic sourcing representatives from UCOP, an administrative representative from each campus and two graduate students, one of which is a member of the UCSA.
“It is absolutely essential that graduate students are involved … it ensures our voices are heard and gives the process transparency,” said Marrach Lachowicz-Scroggins, fifth-year Ph.D. student in comparative pathology, external chair of UCD’s GSA and a member of both the campus and system-wide GSHIP workgroups.
The goal of the workgroup was to develop a Request for Proposal (RFP) that outlined a new comprehensive GSHIP, said Lachowicz-Scroggins. Doing so would eliminate the disparity and gaps in coverage among the different campuses. However, the process has been time-consuming and complex, lasting an entire year to reach that goal, she said.
“We all want more extensive coverage, but we don’t want people to have something they won’t want,” said Lenora Timm, associate dean of graduate studies and UCD campus representative in the system-wide workgroup. “There is lots of work and negotiation that goes into this, [and we still] have our deadlines whether we meet them or not.”
The approximately 40,000 students being served by GSHIP across the 10 UC campuses each have different plans, costs and benefits. With that coverage currently offered by four different insurers, it has been difficult to reach consensus on health care reform, Timm said.
“We won’t see any results until at least early 2010,” she said.
Aiding the process, the UCSA developed five top priorities for health care reform after receiving feedback from graduate students throughout the system. These priorities are: dependent care, extended coverage after graduation, umbrella coverage that applies to all campuses, mental health and extended coverage for national and international travel.
In order to be representative of the graduate student population’s concerns, the system-wide workgroup hopes to incorporate these priorities into their RFP, an idea that is supported by graduate students on the UC Davis campus.
“Standardized health care seems reasonable so long as we don’t lose any of our benefits,” said Rachel Scherr, a fifth-year graduate student in nutritional biology. “Our insurance is already pretty limited in what it covers.”
Aiming to finish RFP negotiations in time for next academic year, the various campus workgroups reviewed the services offered by a number of insurance agencies without being provided any cost information. The group then constructed a combined ranking system to be used by the system-wide workgroup. When the RFP is completed, the UCOP will evaluate the proposal and negotiations with the insurance bidders will follow, Lachowicz-Scroggins said.
This week, from Nov. 17 through 19, the UC Regents will be meeting and voting on a provision for mandatory graduate student health care, as is the policy for undergraduate students.
As a professional student, Lachowicz-Scroggins is determined to have some of her personal concerns considered in the final health care plan. Specifically, she hopes to achieve dependent care and an increased pharmacy cap.
“As the average age of a Ph.D. student is [between] 30 to 35 and we have different needs than younger undergrads, such as long term health and chronic conditions, we should have these built into the plan,” she said.
KYLE SPORLEDER can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.