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Organized by the Union Auto Workers’ Association 2865, the UC student workers’ union, systemwide demonstrations have called for the removal of lifetime caps from the UC Student Health Insurance Plan (SHIP). At the same time, protesters voiced their opposition to possible increases in student premiums, which are aimed at closing the UC SHIP deficit.

In a letter to UC President Mark Yudof, U.S. House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi and 10 other congressional leaders offered their support for the UC health care protests.“We urge the University to work with your student workers and their representatives in ensuring UC’s health benefits are fair and maintain parity with industry standards on issues like lifetime and annual limits and preventative benefits,” the letter read.

UC SHIP has accrued a $57.4 million deficit due to financial miscalculations by the actuary firm, Aon Hewitt. Based on the cost estimations provided by Aon Hewitt the rates for student premiums were set too low, which created the systemwide deficit. UC Riverside offers the lowest health insurance premiums among the ten campuses and is expected to owe $3 million.

“[UCOP wants] to raise premiums, on average, 25 percent per person, which is $400, $500. That’s systemwide, so it varies differently among campuses,” stated ASUCR Vice President of External Affairs Lazaro Cardenas. Based on estimated cost levels, the increases in student premiums would only halt the continuing accrual of debt and not the deficit itself.

“UCSA has requested that UCOP pay off that debt, without pushing it on the students. Specifically, it’s been shown that UCOP did not do monthly reports and checks on the programs,” said ASUCR Vice President of External Affairs Lazaro Cardenas. The UC Student Association is a coalition of the systemwide student governments.

The maximum lifetime cap for UC Riverside students is $400,000. President Barack Obama’s Affordable Care Act (ACA) prohibits most limits on health insurance coverage, with the exception of self-funded programs, such as UC SHIP.

Critics argue that the loopholes in the ACA are dangerous for students who exceed the medical bill caps. According to Associate Vice Chancellor of Student Affairs Danny Kim, “Every year, only a handful of students exceed their annual limits. Less than a handful, I mean like five. There may be an anomalous year, where you’ll have more than five.” The federal health-care law will be fully-implemented come 2014.

UCOP is considering whether to continue the self-insured plan or seek out a separate health insurance company to provide its own SHIP plan. Kim is in charge of overseeing all operations for the UCR Student Health Center.

UC financial aid packages are not expected to cover possible student premium increases, effective fall 2013, if campuses decide to stay in the student health insurance program, according to UCOP Media Relations Brooke Converse.

“Student budgets, which are used to determine financial aid packages, take into account the cost of health insurance. If premiums are raised, the additional cost will be taken into consideration in the student budget. However, the total pool of funds available for financial aid is not increased,” said Converse.

Campuses such as UC Riverside have sought out local brokers and are awaiting insurance quotes and cost estimates to determine the most viable health insurance plan. The UC Council of Chancellors, consisting of chancellors from the ten campuses, will decide whether to opt out of the systemwide health insurance plan by July 2013. Each chancellor has the autonomy to decide the health care provider on behalf of their campus.

By staying in the systemwide health insurance plan, campuses run the financial risk of shouldering high student premiums due to the accrued deficit.

“The debt was created because UCOP set premiums too low in the first place and didn’t manage the money. Students did nothing wrong. Why should they be the ones to be charged higher premiums?” said Cardenas.