UC Berkeley health plan accidentally denies coverage to riot participants

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Anne Schuler/File

At first glance, language in UC Berkeley’s student health insurance plan appears to exclude injuries incurred during riot participation.

When Bahar Navab, the assembly affairs vice president of the UC Berkeley Graduate Assembly, contacted University Health Services on Monday to express her surprise at the policy’s language, UHS was surprised, too.

The clause, nestled in the plan’s benefit booklet, was mistakenly included when the campus entered into a contract with a new health insurance provider, Aetna, this summer, despite the fact that the campus asked the language be removed, said Kim LaPean, communications manager at UHS’s Tang Center.

“It’s sad that the (clause) was included,” LaPean said. “But what would be sadder is if students thought we wanted to include the misinformation.”

Within 24 hours of the inquiry, UHS confirmed the administrative error and stated that the clause would not affect those covered by the plan, LaPean said. UHS is in the process of officially removing the language from posted and printed material.

“We would never enforce such a clause,” LaPean said. “We respect our students’ rights.”

Aetna is also currently working to correct the plan’s language, although riot exclusions are “standard” in healthcare policies, said Aetna public relations manager Cynthia Michener.

The clause, currently printed in the campus SHIP 2013-14 benefit booklet, excludes coverage for “expense incurred as a result of injury due to participation in a riot.”

The booklet goes on to define participation in a riot as taking part in a riot in any way, including inciting or conspiring to incite a riot. It excludes actions taken in self-defense, so long as they are not against persons trying to restore law and order.

“I was surprised to see that clause too since UHS is generally a strong advocate for students and their wellbeing in all situations,” said Navab, who is the campus’ student SHIP representative, in an email.

For the past three years, UC Berkeley students were offered medical coverage under a universitywide health insurance plan. After a projected UC SHIP deficit that could have sparked double-digit student premium increases, UC Berkeley decided to transition back into a campus-managed, fully funded insurance plan for the 2013-14 school year.

While the clause is not in effect and is in the process of being removed from print, Mitar Milutinovic, a UC Berkeley graduate student who wrote a blog post about the clause, still has questions about why such language would be included in any insurance policy.

“Because demonstrations sometimes turn violent despite the best efforts of organizers and even the majority of participants, it is hard to draw a line between demonstrations and riots,” Milutinovic said.

Despite the mistake, LaPean says the decision to switch to a new medical service provider was a popular one and that Aetna “has been a great partner.”

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