UC Berkeley students rally against discontinuation of dependent health insurance

Rachael Garner/File
Rachael Garner/File
Rachael Garner/File

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UC Berkeley students and student family members are continuing to rally against a campus decision to discontinue dependent health insurance, although the campus has agreed to provide temporary financial assistance to those hurt by the change.

This month, students and student family members met twice to voice complaints about the changes made to campus dependent health coverage, including the costs of finding alternative coverage for families and pregnant, international and undocumented students. They also discussed the alleged lack of notification given to affected students before the campus decided to terminate the coverage.

The dependent plan, which currently covers about 200 dependents, is set to expire Aug. 15 and was ended in an effort to keep costs low for campus Student Health Insurance Plan users. Although many students with dependents qualify for other insurance options, some have said other options would cost them thousands of dollars more each year.

To address student concerns, UC Berkeley’s University Health Services has provided a yearlong transition-assistance fund for students currently enrolled in the 2014-15 SHIP dependent plan. The fund will go to one-time financial assistance for students who can show that the transition has negatively affected them.

Some students, though, consider the fund an incomplete solution. During their meeting Sunday, union activists and student-parents talked about holding a rally and press conference Friday and about their dislike of the transition-assistance fund. The student workers’ union, UAW Local 2865, is also scheduled to meet with SHIP administrators Friday as part of the union’s contract to discuss any changes to health-care plans.

“We’ll be asking the university why they thought it was a good idea to make this really substantial change without notifying us … and why Berkeley in particular — the flagship university — can’t meet that same basic standard,” said Ben Keller, a third-year campus graduate student and member of the Berkeley Healthcare Coalition, a group including student activists and faculty working to restore dependent health care at UC Berkeley.

Kim LaPean, spokesperson for the UHS Tang Center, said that as health-care prices increase, dropping dependent coverage helped the campus fulfill its responsibility to have a strong insurance plan for all students that keeps prices as low as possible.

“It doesn’t feel good, it doesn’t seem right — but in fact, these are the facts, and it’s easy in these types of situations to ignore the facts,” LaPean said. “But our main responsibility is to the 22,000 students enrolled — period.”

The union formally submitted a grievance to the university in May, accusing it of violating its contractual obligation by not informing the union about considering the discontinuation of dependent health care, and accusing it of discrimination based on pregnancy, childbirth, marital status and citizenship. A grievance meeting will be held June 23, during which the union will discuss the alleged violation with administrators.

According to Beezer de Martelly, steward of UAW 2865, the union has a legal research team investigating the feasibility of pursuing legal action against the university because of its decision to cut dependent health care.

UHS has stated on its website that there is no possibility that the decision will be reversed. According to LaPean, the Tang Center held an information session last week to help students better understand the change.

“The most important thing for us is getting the message out there, giving all the background on the steps and helping people get on different plans,” she said.

Members of the Berkeley Healthcare Coalition and the union, however, said they are not convinced there is no other solution the university can provide. Members said it is their priority to reverse the decision so they can have affordable dependent health care provided to UC students. The union said there are other options it hopes to explore with SHIP administrators Friday, such as having dependent care offered through the UC Student Health Insurance Plan, which is different from UC Berkeley’s plan.

“We will continue to advocate for dependents who have been abandoned by the UC,” de Martelly said.

The coalition rally and press conference will be held at Snow Park in Oakland, near where the union and UC health-care administrators will be meeting, according to a press release.

Contact Sujin Shin at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter @sujinjshin.

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  • Seth Leibson

    The action will be in Snow Park (19th and Harrison) at 10 AM, to be precise.