There has been much discussion about how UC administrators are petitioning to keep UC SHIP exempt from the standards of the Affordable Care Act and how UC Office of the President mismanaged UC SHIP to the tune of nearly $60 million. What I haven’t seen or heard discussed is how these factors may spell the demise of UC SHIP when the Affordable Care Act (“Obamacare”) kicks in next January.
Since UC SHIP is a self-funded student plan, it is not mandated by ACA to meet certain standards. UCOP’s response to this has been to get UC SHIP classified as “minimum essential coverage.” The problem with UCOP doing this is that it keeps UC SHIP in this gray-zone where the elimination of caps is still not mandatory. Currently, students face a yearly prescription drug cap and a lifetime coverage cap under UC SHIP. The reality is that this cap is far from sufficient for dealing with a long-term or costly medical condition such as cancer. UCOP thinks it has done us a favor when in fact it has just further cemented UC students’ lack of health security.
Next there is the deficit. UC SHIP is expected to be just under $60 million in debt by this summer. When UC SHIP was formed by consolidating the existing campus health insurance plans all oversight became centralized under UCOP and campus health services were no longer able to oversee the plan. Hired consultants did some poor math, and UCOP didn’t keep their own tabs on the plan or get any second opinions, and let the plan go into debt year after year, until we got to the situation we are in now. UCOP’s solution is to charge students for their mismanagement, nearly doubling our fees over the next few years.
Most important is what all this will mean if UCOP does pass the buck on to us and doesn’t remove the caps. Next January, students will face the option of buying a cheaper insurance plan on the state exchanges which doesn’t have any yearly or lifetime caps, or sticking with the more expensive UC SHIP plan which will not be there for them if they face a catastrophic illness. Which would you choose: the cheaper plan which offers more health security or the more expensive plan with less coverage? The obvious choice for many students will be to go to the exchanges and drop UC SHIP. If students do this in large enough numbers than the buying power of our plan will be significantly reduced. At this point we basically have a downward spiral, where more students leaving the plan causes more students to leave, until UC SHIP is just no longer a competitive plan at all.
I am not the only one who thinks this way. I sit on the UC SHIP student advisory committee here at Davis and one of the directors of Student Health and Counseling Services said in our Feb. 13 meeting that this is a very realistic scenario and that she thinks that after a few years of the state exchanges being established that the UC will no longer offer health insurance to students.
Either we can demand that UCOP pay for its mistakes and that the caps are dropped, or we can sit by and watch as UC SHIP wastes away its last few years, at the expense of those students who do not immediately leave the plan.
Ph.D student in Sociology
Unit Chair of the UC Student Worker Union UAW 2865 at UC Davis
Member of the UC SHIP student advisory committee