UC Berkeley must inform, actively support students in light of disruptive SHIP changes

CAMPUS ISSUES: On health care, the campus must recognize the impact that rising costs have on already marginalized students

Three worried students in front of the Tang center
Emily Bi/Senior Staff

This month, UC Berkeley announced a change in insurance carriers for the Student Health Insurance Plan, or SHIP, effective fall 2019. In a press release, the campus told students to expect “a modest increase to premiums” and “minimal changes to specific copays.” But to the students that this change will impact, this is far from the truth.

University Health Services, or UHS, will break from Anthem Blue Cross and, instead, partner with Blue Shield of California, increasing costs and possibly limiting health care providers for students on campus. And frankly, the campus must do more to ensure that students are informed and empowered to navigate the bureaucracies that this change will bring.

SHIP exists to guarantee that all students have access to inclusive and affordable health care, but incoming changes to SHIP — such as a 10 percent increase in premiums and an out-of-network coinsurance of 50 percent — jeopardize this very premise. Students who choose SHIP do so because it’s their best option, and raising costs will disproportionately burden marginalized students. When gender, ability, race and economic background already impact the quality of health care individuals receive, UC Berkeley must recognize that these changes to SHIP could advance existing health disparities.

Students with medical conditions often seek out specialized care outside of the Tang Center because of the limitations of the center’s services. With the changes to SHIP, these students will soon be required to pay nearly double what they’re currently paying per specialty office visit — costs that could literally force students to compromise their wellbeing.

It’s been proven that individuals with disabilities face barriers in receiving the health care they need — and in the fall, students with chronic illnesses will face a $150 increase in copays for emergency room visits. While this fee is waived if the student is admitted, the admittance fee itself is a whopping $250. It’s unacceptable that these students will be punished for treating unpreventable symptoms of their disabilities.

On top of increased costs, the changes to SHIP could lead to a gap in coverage for many students who see mental health specialists outside the Tang Center. To ask students who have invested time and energy into building relationships with these specialists to change providers is unfair. Sure, UHS is currently working to invite nonparticipating providers to join a special SHIP network of contracts — but this is far from a concrete promise to students.

The changes to SHIP coverage in the fall may be inevitable — so the campus must inform students about possible disruptions in coverage, rather than releasing dismissive press releases. If UC Berkeley truly values the health and wellbeing of every student, it must actively support students through the large and frustrating changes that next year will bring.

Editorials represent the majority opinion of the Editorial Board as written by the opinion editor.