In theory, the UC Student Health Insurance Plan’s benefits should outweigh its costs. But in practice, they don’t. For this reason, UC Berkeley should withdraw from the systemwide plan and revert to managing its own health coverage for its own students.
SHIP was supposed to unite all UC campuses under a cohesive, well-managed health system that saved them money and eased the managerial burden by streamlining health coverage. Instead, students have seen that SHIP is too organizationally painful to operate effectively. Administrative mismanagement led to a deficit that was at one point projected at $57 million — a problem that seems like it could have been entirely avoided had the university done a better job communicating with the firm responsible for setting premiums.
Support for leaving SHIP has rapidly grown on campus over the semester. In February, a group of administrators wrote that if SHIP’s operations were not “considerably improved” for the next academic year, individual campuses could opt out of the plan “to seek a more stable and financially viable health plan for students.” At a series of public forums in March, students weighed in on various proposals to tackle the plan’s deficit and toyed with the idea of jumping SHIP. Just two weeks ago, the ASUC Senate indicated unanimously that it supports withdrawing from the plan. Earlier this month, student leaders — including the ASUC and Graduate Assembly presidents — sent a letter to Chancellor Robert Birgeneau stating that “we have lost faith in UCOP’s ability to effectively manage the UC SHIP plan and believe pulling out is our only real option.”
Mismanagement as large as that which resulted in the plan’s current deficit could end up necessitating premium increases for students. To that end, as Graduate Assembly President Bahar Navab said in March, “If we start causing deterrents to students using care, then what’s the point of SHIP?” Before joining UC SHIP a few years ago, UC Berkeley successfully ran its own health plan. The campus should return to that model.
But the campus running its own health plan does not mean it is entirely immune to the problems that UC SHIP faced. Moving forward, it is imperative that campus administrators pay close attention to understanding what went wrong with UC SHIP so that the campus does not repeat those mistakes.
In the end, the final decision on whether UC Berkeley should withdraw from UC SHIP rests with Birgeneau. Given the commendable community input and public dialogue that has taken place so far, his choice is obvious. The campus would be better off on its own.