Tang Center ends participation with UC staff health insurance plan

Michael Drummond/File

Related Posts

Starting next year, some UC employees will no longer be able to see a physician at the Tang Center after the campus’s decision to end participation with a staff health care insurance plan due to rising costs and increased demand for health services.

University Health Services, which provides health services to UC Berkeley students and some UC employees, will no longer provide services through Health Net, a health care company that offers the Blue and Gold Plan specifically for UC faculty, staff and retirees. UHS said it lacked the infrastructure necessary to serve multiple patient groups with different health care plans.

Outside the Health Net Blue and Gold plan, UHS, which operates through the Tang Center, also administers care to students as well as Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory employees. About 300 faculty and staff members see a doctor at the Tang Center through the Health Net plan.

During open enrollment, those on the health care plan can choose a plan out of the six offered by the university this fall or find a doctor at a different health provider covered by Health Net, such as Alta Bates Medical Group.

Many of the employees affected said the campus did not fully consider how its decision would impact them, especially regarding the relationships they have developed with their doctors. Patients were notified July 23.

According to Brad Buchman, the Tang Center’s medical director, the decision was made jointly by UHS administrators and campus officials after an evaluation of the Health Net plan that spanned several years. He said serving the population required a duplicate infrastructure to handle issues such as appointment scheduling and referral systems.

“This resulted in an inordinate amount of resources and staff time being devoted to a very small patient population,” Buchman said in an email.

Vicki Savitt, an academic personnel analyst at the campus Graduate School of Education, has seen the same Tang Center physician for the past 15 years. Due to the decision, Savitt said she will have to find a new doctor — a hard decision, as she credits her physician for saving her life a few years ago.

“Health care is far greater than healing injuries and illness,” Savitt said in an email. “You don’t think about it until you need it, and then you never forget.”

She believes the decision prioritizes statistics and quantity over people and quality of life, calling the overall cost to the campus to maintain the plan “pocket change.” Buchman, however, said the decision might not even result in a net financial gain to the campus, adding that the change wasn’t about making money but about focusing on the Tang Center’s core mission: serving students.

Peter Cataldo, the audit services manager of the UC Office of the President, has seen a physician at the Tang Center for the past 22 years. He wrote a letter to the UC Board of Regents Committee on Health Services calling the decision a “slap in the face” to staff.

Karen Sullivan, the graduate fellowships and financial aid adviser at the Graduate School of Education, doesn’t think administrators even expected there would be backlash from staff.

“My sense is that they thought they would just write the letter and say, ‘This isn’t convenient for us anymore,’ ” Sullivan said. “But they didn’t weigh in the importance of health care.”

Physicians will be working with their patients until the Dec. 31 deadline to help them transition to a new doctor, according to Buchman. After that, faculty and staff will still be able to use Tang Center services such at the School of Optometry’s eye clinic and the travel-clinic services, he said.

Contact Katy Abbott at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter @katyeabbott.