SHIP’s future is not certain

Campus will work to maintain quality care despite SHIP crisis

Jacob Wilson/Staff

In recent weeks, officials who oversee the UC Student Health Insurance Program, now in place on all UC campuses, announced that the program is carrying a projected $57 million deficit and that the increased cost could very well be passed along to UC students in the form of notably higher premiums.

Most UC Berkeley undergraduates now pay about $1,780 each academic year for the UC Student Health Insurance Program, known as SHIP, and graduate students pay about $2,300 annually. And, under current proposals now being considered by UC officials to close the deficit, those costs could increase dramatically.

We are well aware of the importance of keeping health care costs as low as possible while assuring quality care.  We are advocating that UCOP leaders do everything possible to minimize the financial impact of this deficit to students.

We all know that health care costs and the associated premiums are likely to increase annually, even without a deficit.  Insurance premiums increase annually to adjust for medical inflation and/or if new benefits are added to a health plan.  However, in this case, the UC Berkeley administration does not support moving the burden of paying the SHIP deficit onto the backs of students in the form of higher premium costs.

The fact is that we have questions as to whether the UC SHIP program, fully launched in 2011-12, was set up with proper oversight controls and checks in place. Even as the UC Office of the President administrators investigate this issue, we have already recommended that immediate new controls be implemented to ensure effective and efficient administration of this program.

Campus-level health administrators are always looking for ways to contain costs without compromising quality  But instead of trying to squeeze funds from campus-specific  health programs on campuses or raise student premiums,  we have recommended that some of UCOP’s financial reserves be used to cover a  portion of the deficit.

Further, we believe that if SHIP premiums need to rise in the future to meet actual operational costs as well as to address the program deficit, those increases  should be moderate and spread out over multiple years to help relieve the burden on students.  Not only is this a matter of fairness, it is a practical matter.  Dramatic and/or sudden premium hikes could actually undermine the financial stability of the program if they cause some students to seek medical coverage outside of SHIP, leaving the program with fewer participants and, perhaps, a customer population that costs more to care for.

Together with students, we have reached out to UC officials and indicated our eagerness to work in cooperation with them on this issue. Students and campus-level health care administrators have great insights to add to the discussion.

Before the UC systemwide SHIP program was launched, UC Berkeley successfully managed its own independent SHIP program for 15 years.  UC Berkeley’s  University Health Services managers rightly take pride in having a fully accredited medical facility providing outstanding health care.  As part of one of the more comprehensive student health centers in the nation, they are able to provide excellent, convenient service while containing costs by keeping students right here on campus rather than sending them across town for lab work, radiology services or urgent care treatment.

If UC SHIP’s performance is not considerably improved for 2013-14, individual UC campuses — including UC Berkeley — could opt out of UC SHIP for 2014-15 to seek a more stable and financially viable health plan for students. In the meantime, it is our hope that UC SHIP’s challenges can be successfully addressed.

To be clear, we did initially assess that students would benefit if the Berkeley campus joined the larger UC SHIP plan. That move allowed our own UHS to increase health care benefits while, initially at least, keeping premiums lower than if we stayed with an internally managed SHIP plan.

Some of the new benefits added since joining UC SHIP include free preventative coverage benefits (wellness visits, immunizations), free birth control and a dependent plan option.

We are committed to doing everything we can to ensure that the UC system’s SHIP program runs efficiently and effectively and without placing an undue cost burden on Berkeley students.

Ultimately, UC Berkeley will not have the final say in deciding what course will be taken to reduce the looming SHIP deficit and strengthen the SHIP program — following the UCOP review and evaluation process, chancellors across the UC system will take up the matter — but it is our hope that we can limit the financial cost to students, and we are directing our efforts toward that goal.

 Ron Coley is associate vice chancellor of business and administrative services. Harry Le Grande is vice chancellor of student affairs. Andrew Szeri is dean of the Graduate Division.

Contact the opinion desk at [email protected].