Last week, the requirements for students to opt out of the campus health insurance plan were modified in response to student concerns about the process being too difficult this year.
One change lowers the amount of out-of-pocket expenses students’ health savings accounts must cover for them to be granted a waiver. Students can now waive out of campus insurance if their account covers more than $6,350. A requirement for the amount students must pay for prescription medication before their insurance takes over was also eliminated from the waiver criteria.
The campus health insurance plan costs $2,200 annually and includes medical, mental health, vision and dental benefits. Students are automatically enrolled in the plan each year upon registering at UC Berkeley but can opt out if they already have another insurance plan that meets certain criteria.
The modifications to these criteria will affect the entire UC system. According to Kim LaPean, communications manager at the Tang Center, the waiver requirements were revised both in response to student concerns and because of changes in the insurance marketplace.
Before last week’s changes, a number of students complained about not being able to waive out of the campus health insurance plan with the new online automatic system. According to LaPean, the majority of waiver denials are a result of students not reading questions carefully enough and entering incorrect information.
“We exist to provide students care,” LaPean said. “We want to have a strong plan, but if families have a strong plan, we want them to be able to waive out. The compromise is that you have to enter the correct information. We feel really terrible, because we know students are frustrated.”
Unlike the old system, the new system requires students to answer questions about their current health plan within a 15- to 20-minute time frame. After the questions have been answered, the system will automatically accept or deny the student’s waiver. If students are denied, they have the opportunity to appeal.
Anne Abrahamson, a UC Berkeley senior who has waived out of the campus health insurance plan before, said she was denied a waiver by the automatic system this year, and the appeal she submitted was also denied. Abrahamson said she made multiple calls to the Tang Center without receiving a response. Now, she said, she has to pay for both the campus’s and her own insurance plans, and even if she were to get her appeal approved, she would have to pay a late fee.
“I just think it’s so arbitrary that their standards can change when my insurance has been fine for two years,” Abrahamson said. “I’ve tried to ask them why it’s changed and what the standards were last year, but nobody knows. It feels like I’m being ripped off here.”
UC Berkeley sophomore Jacob Gill said while he understands that changing a policy can cause confusion around implementation, opting out of the campus plan should not be such a difficult process.
“It’s clear that it’s a really poorly implemented policy, and it’s just hurting everyone,” Gill said.
Only a small percentage of the student population has been affected, however, and the Tang Center is still sorting through a high volume of appeals, LaPean said. This year, about 10,000 students have opted out of the plan, and more than two-thirds of those who filed appeals are set to receive approval, according to LaPean.
“Students who are in the limbo are our number one concern right now — the ones who don’t know what’s happening with their accounts — and we know that’s frustrating,” LaPean said.