Courtesy of monteen
Courtesy of monteen

“The Student Health Advisory Committee (SHAC), along with the Graduate Student Association (GSA), have voted in favor of opting out of the UC Student Health Insurance Plan (SHIP) and choosing to go with a local, fully-insured UCR Plan,” reported Jorgelina Marin. She is one of five undergraduate representatives on the UCR Student Health Advisory Committee (SHAC), which assesses the implementation of health care policies on campus.

SHAC members reasoned that the campus will obtain better control over rising health care costs by holding a direct line of communication to an external provider. The preliminary decision is a milestone for the campus, which according to Marin has often been overlooked at the UC negotiations table for having a smaller student body compared to other campuses. The unanimous vote was made by the Graduate Council on Monday, April 15 and by the undergraduate representatives on Wednesday, April 17 during a SHAC meeting.

“Aside from the huge deficit we face, one of the major factors was that many of the students have had difficulty when dealing with Anthem Blue Cross. These issues have ranged from students not being reimbursed for their medical care, bad customer service, among other issues,” Marin said.

Under SHIP, all changes to the systemwide insurance plan needed to be made through UCOP as opposed to a direct insurance company, which diminished the influence of each campus.

“UCR has to meet with all the other UCs to determine changes in the insurance plan, however because we are a smaller campus our requests often are not met,” said Marin. “The key word is autonomy. Meaning when we opt out for a local UCR-only insurance plan, UCR students will have a greater amount of control over the types of benefits they wish to see,” which Marin describes as a “more financially secure” decision.

Other UC campuses expressed a desire to take on the banded approach—differential health care packages for both undergraduates and graduate students—versus leaving the UC health care umbrella entirely.

“UC Berkeley, Davis and Riverside voted to opt out of SHIP. But the UC campuses of Irvine and Santa Barbara want their undergraduates to leave, while their graduates voted to stay…because the premiums/quotes may be higher than expected,” explained Sandeep Dhall, the campus representative on the UC SHIP Advisory Board.

“The quotes of fully-insured were only like $14 difference (for undergraduates) from the UC SHIP rates at present. Hence it only makes sense for the undergraduates to opt out, as per the graduates students there are things at stake…” said Dhall. Graduate students face an increase of $700 to $800 by pulling out of SHIP, which warrants fears of reduced research grants and limited fellowships commonly offered to them on campus. This may also lead to a reduction of as many as 20 teaching assistant positions at UCR.

Members of the Graduate Council argue that UCR has limited financial leverage, which places the campus at a disadvantage for negotiating rates on a systemwide level. UCR has approximately 3,200 graduate students, which is relatively smaller compared to the campuses of UCLA, UC Berkeley and UC San Diego, which boast an approximated and combined total of 30,000 graduate students, according to Dean of the UCR Graduate Division Program Joseph Childers.

“And clearly places… like Berkeley, UCLA and UC San Diego with larger graduate student populations have more to lose, they have a bigger voice,” he said. “Clearly if all of the campuses, or even just a few campuses withdraw, it will probably drive up the rates for the remaining campuses,” said Childers. He was considerate of the difficult decision, which goes beyond a simple financial splash and contributing to a much more global riptide within the university system

“For undergraduates, typically it’s parents or it’s students who’s paying for [the premiums]. Often for graduate students, it’s the campus who pays for it through TA-ships … and people who have grants or higher graduate students. So it’s a different constituency of people who are responsible for the money,” Childers explained.

By going with an outside and fully-funded provider, the student body would not be liable for any future deficits that may be incurred through UC SHIP. Childers explained that UCR previously negotiated its own health insurance rates prior to entering UC SHIP, which held a supposed surplus of $12 million back in 2011. With limited control over cost-effective measures, the campus experienced difficulty in keeping rates low.

“I suspect around 600 (TAs are covered under SHIP), which means it’s going to be about a $450,000 hit to our campus …” said Childers. By resorting to an outside provider, graduate student premiums become costlier, which ultimately reduces the grant packages—health benefits and salaries—that faculty members are able to provide for them.

To explain the rationale behind the decision, Graduate Student Association President Henry Huang said, “From my perspective one of the main factors that influenced the decision to opt out was to have more control over premiums moving forward. This entire process has been extremely difficult as our representatives had to continually operate in an uncertain environment with only limited and constantly changing information.”

Huang felt skeptical that UCOP has the much-needed managerial skills to provide coverage over large groups of people, based on the recently accrued deficit—a $57.4 million miscalculation originating from administrative errors. Given the circumstances, the campus could only come to a decision based on the UCOP’s financial track record, according to Huang.

UC President Mark Yudof has vocally stated his opposition to shouldering the deficit onto the student body. But UCOP does not have the necessary funds to pay off the deficit, which may buoy itself upon the backs of campuses. UCOP is planning to structure and service the deficit separately from student health care premiums.

“There is a process in place to make decisions regarding UC SHIP and that process will continue as planned. The Executive Committee is scheduled to meet on April 24. They will give their recommendations to the Council of Chancellors at their meeting on May 1. It will be up to the chancellors to decide how to move forward on their individual campus,” said UC Media Specialist Brooke Converse.