Student Health Insurance Plan resumes dependent coverage after student backlash

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The Student Health Insurance Plan will resume coverage for dependents this fall, after months of student backlash over the campus’s decision to terminate dependent coverage in May.

At an information session Thursday, University Health Services, or UHS, asked for student input regarding potential changes to the SHIP cost-sharing plans between undergraduate and graduate students, as well as five insurance carrier options for the 2016-17 school year.

After UHS announced SHIP would end dependent coverage beginning fall 2015 as a cost-saving measure, many students protested for their partners and children to remain covered.

Two weeks ago, UHS decided to resume dependent coverage, after determining that different health insurance carriers could provide competitively priced plans, according to UHS spokesperson Kim LaPean.

SHIP serves about 22,000 UC Berkeley students — about 60 percent of the student body — and includes many international and graduate students, with approximately 200 dependents dropped from coverage last fall.

Graduate Assembly President Jenna Kingkade said the assembly has been working with students since June to pass a resolution that called for the reinstatement of dependent coverage.

Berkeley Healthcare Coalition, which is made up of UC Village residents, the UC Student Workers Union 2865 and the assembly led the charge in advocating for dependent coverage, along with the ASUC and other advocacy committees.

Second-year graduate student and Berkeley Healthcare Coalition member Marten Lohstroh said the positive changes in SHIP coverage were “completely driven by student advocacy,” noting the successful collaboration between undergraduate and graduate students.

Fourth-year graduate student Michal Olszewski, who serves on the Student Health Insurance Advisory Committee, said he is pleased with the changes but disappointed it required so much student effort.

“It’s a peace of mind to know your child is insured,” Olszewski said, whose 1-year-old son has been uninsured since June. “What I would like from the university is to have a guarantee that those benefits are going to stay.”

Campus doctoral candidate Arran Phipps said he had planned to do his postdoctorate work at UC Berkeley but became disheartened by the campus’s handling of affected students after dependent coverage was terminated.

“That’s part of the reason why I have to graduate this semester,” Phipps said, noting his children’s currently unaffordable health insurance plan. He will be taking a fellowship at Stanford University in June, where he said he was offered good pay and full benefits.

Previously, the insurance contract was renewed every year. But for the coming school year, LaPean said UHS hopes to establish a three- to five-year contract with a single carrier, ensuring stability for a longer period of time.

At the information session, UHS representatives presented two options for financing SHIP coverage, with one proposal shifting costs from graduate to undergraduate students and the other splitting the two groups into separate insurance pools. Students in attendance overwhelmingly supported keeping undergraduates and graduates together.

UHS also discussed additional benefits for transgender students. LaPean said that transgender students already receive many benefits but that UHS hopes to cover operations that are generally deemed cosmetic.

“Moving forward, we need to create a better process (and) make sure students have full information and stakeholders are at the table,” Kingkade said.

Final decisions regarding SHIP coverage details will be made by Feb. 29.  

Contact Sareen Habeshian and Hannah Lewis at [email protected].