UC Berkeley students meet with officials about dependent insurance, remain upset

Mitzi Perez/Staff

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Hours after a private grievance meeting about the campus’s termination of dependent health care coverage, University Health Services officials gave a presentation on the decision to a small crowd of distraught UC Berkeley students, union members and their families Tuesday.

A recent decision to end Student Health Insurance Plan coverage of UC Berkeley student dependents has prompted an outcry from members of United Auto Workers Local 2865, the UC student-workers’ union. After both Tuesday meetings, union members still expressed dissatisfaction with the decision, though UHS offered several resources in an attempt to aid affected students and their families.

“Students in the future are not going to be able to attend Berkeley because they don’t have affordable care options for their kids,” said Arran Phipps, a campus graduate student researcher and father of three, during the UHS presentation.

At the grievance meeting — held between union members and officials within the UC system — union attendees presented on how the university allegedly violated the union’s labor contract by failing to alert members of the coverage change, according to Seth Leibson, a head steward of UAW 2865.

Under its contract, the union is permitted to schedule twice-yearly meetings with the university, which representatives from SHIP also attend, according to Jackie Zaneri, another head steward of UAW 2865. She said, however, that SHIP representatives were not present at a November union meeting with the university.

“That probably is when they would’ve informed us that they were contemplating these changes, and they didn’t,” Zaneri said.

But Debra Harrington, campus labor relations director, said that under the labor contract, the university is not required to provide advance notice of a change in the student health care program or to negotiate the contract at the twice-yearly meetings.

Union representatives expressed their concerns and proposed solutions at the grievance meeting but did not receive a response from the UC system officials present, Leibson said.

That evening, SHIP insurance manager Bahar Navab and UHS Executive Director Claudia Covello presented on the reasons behind the termination, including keeping insurance costs lower for the majority of UC Berkeley students. They also offered resources — including a free insurance helpline, personalized help through the SHIP office and a Transition Assistance Fund — and answered the questions of students and families affected by the decision.

The Transition Assistance Fund offered by UHS — one-year financial aid for those who can prove the decision will raise costs of their dependent coverage — received disapproval from many in the audience.

“There’s a very fine line about what type of services people can apply for and what they qualify for based on their income,” said Caitrin Connolly-Olszewski, who believes that her family has been hurt by the coverage termination. “A thousand dollars (from the Transition Assistance Fund) could put them over the limit.”

Covello said that while it is hard to make general comments on how students would be affected by the fund, financial aid would be individualized based on income.

As far as future action goes, UAW 2865 aims to investigate whether the campus adequately handled pressure from Aetna Insurance, which contracts with SHIP, to remove dependent coverage from the health plan. The union will also explore the possibility of getting its members on UC SHIP, a systemwide health plan sponsored by the UC Office of the President.

Contact Andrea Platten at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter @andreaplatonic.