Students grapple with the 2014 SHIP waiver due Tuesday

A sign reading "University Health Services" points into the Tang Center, UC Berkeley's health center
Randy Adam Romero/Staff

If you’re a UC Berkeley student, odds are you’ve come head to head with University Health Services more than once. You’re probably familiar with the Student Health Insurance Plan, which urges students to receive major medical insurance through primary care at the on-campus Tang Center. All students are automatically enrolled in SHIP, but they can choose to complete a SHIP waiver form if they already have comprehensive health insurance from another provider.

SHIP waiver applications are due Tuesday for students opting out of the university medical insurance plan. Many students are unhappy to hear that their application has been denied or needs resubmission. The Clog examined the challenges posed by the 2014 SHIP waiver process and its implications for incoming and continuing students.

In the past, SHIP waiver forms weren’t too harrowing. Application questions were straightforward, and if individuals could provide proof that they already possessed satisfactory health coverage, they were likely to have the waiver approved. This year, however, the waiver process was more confusing. Questions used puzzling terminology that stumped the average respondent, and an increasing number of waivers were denied because students incorrectly responded to one or two of the required prompts.

Some of the questions that UC Berkeley students claimed were confusing included, “Does your health insurance plan have an annual or lifetime maximum?” or  “Is the annual out-of-pocket maximum you are required to pay $6,350 or less?” or Does your plan pay at least 80 percent co-insurance?”

Many students tried to answer these questions by visiting their health insurance provider’s website, but couldn’t find the information they were looking for. If students even answered one of the 15 questionnaire questions incorrectly, they immediately received an email notifying them that their waiver had been denied, but they can still fill out an appeal within 10 days of the rejection.

“Students may feel like they have insurance that actually covers them, but if it does not meet their waiver requirements, they can make their appeal and state their case,” said Kim LaPean, the Tang Center’s communications manager.

According to senior Matt Brueckmann, appealing the waiver required students to mail back a copy of their insurance cards and benefits for review, after which students had to wait a timely 30 days for the appeal to process. Brueckmann says that his SHIP waiver was denied after he answered four yes or no questions wrong on the application, and his appeal was denied soon afterward — even though he submitted the same insurance for the past 3 years and it had always been approved. When Brueckmann visited the Tang Center to see what he could do, they told him that the only option was to pay SHIP’s $2190 annual fee.

The Tang Center attributed changes in this year’s SHIP application to ASUC’s stricter health care guidelines.

“Our ASUC partners with our own SHIP subcommittees so we have a committee of students who actually vote on what SHIP should be like for next year and what our waiver requirements are, and that is what was proposed just to ensure that people are enrolled in plans that actually cover them in insurance,” LaPean said.

These guidelines mandate a closer inspection of benefits, maximums and health care services provided by alternative insurance plans — and this year it’s more likely for non-Tang insurance to fall short of the minimum expectations. For example, Brueckmann’s out-of-pocket maximum was slightly higher than allowed, so he can no longer use insurance that he relied on for previous semesters.

In response to the complexity of this year’s SHIP waiver application, students have started Facebook threads that almost imitate cheat sheets. Popularly circulated is a Facebook post that lists how to pass the SHIP waiver questionnaire, guiding students to select ‘no’ for certain questions and ‘yes’ for others.

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Though some argue that discussion threads of this nature are morally questionable, other students defend the idea of a SHIP waiver cheat sheet because they say it’s the only way they can avoid incurring unnecessary fees. Students contend that this year’s yes-or-no SHIP waiver questionnaire fails the system because responses become systematic and dishonest, with the intention of passing an exam instead of truthfully conveying health care coverage details.

Incoming freshmen like Arnav Gautam complain that the seemingly impossible task of obtaining SHIP waiver approval this year makes for an unwelcoming introduction to the Berkeley administration. Continuing students worry that their insurance will no longer be approved despite being an acceptable form of coverage in previous years. Overall, it seems as though students are exasperated that their SHIP waivers are being denied, and they hope the ASUC will make some changes to its newly instilled health insurance guidelines so that it will be easier to opt out of the Tang Center’s services next fall if they’re already being covered by another health care provider.

Image Sources: Randy Adam Romero, Image 2

Contact Vasudha Doijode at [email protected].