UCSB to Transition Out of Systemwide Student Health Insurance Program

Mary Ferris and Debbie Fleming
© George Foulsham
Mary Ferris (left) and Debbie Fleming (center) discuss UCSB’s decision to opt out of the systemwide UC SHIP program in favor of a campus-operated, fully funded health insurance plan for students.
EARLIER THIS WEEK, UC Santa Barbara, along with four other UC campuses, made the decision to transition back to a campus-operated, fully funded health insurance plan for students and opt out of the system-wide UC SHIP program. 93106 sat down with Dr. Mary Ferris, director of student health at UC Santa Barbara, and Debbie Fleming, senior associate dean of students in the Office of Student Life, to discuss the reasons behind the decision and what it means for UCSB’s graduate and undergraduate students.

93106: Why did UC Santa Barbara decide to pull out of the UC SHIP program?

Mary Ferris: Before the UC SHIP program was implemented in 2010, UC Santa Barbara had a successful student insurance program. The old program could be adjusted in response to student feedback and the insurance carrier assumed all the risk for any losses if the claims exceeded the premiums collected. Given some of the challenges that the current UC SHIP self-funded program has faced, our desire to incorporate students’ voices into the process and our desire to reduce the risk to the university, we decided to return to our previous program.

Deborah Fleming: Moving away from the system-wide model for UC SHIP is going to give us more control. We’re going to go back to the model we had before, where we actually had a committee that had student representation on it, and we met regularly. For the past few years, we’ve been in a different kind of model where we’ve not had that opportunity.

93106: What do you mean by adjusting to student feedback?

Ferris: Every year there is an opportunity to adjust the benefits that the health insurance covers, both to change coverage and in order to control the premium costs. The price can go up if you want additional benefits, or the price could go down if you want to cut back on some of the benefits. We’ll now be able to make these decisions based on consultation with our students. We think this will give a better outcome for the students, and better control the prices.

93106: Why does UCSB think that it can do this better than the university system?

Fleming: We had a good experience doing this on our own. We were more in control. We had more flexibility. We were able to involve students more directly in the decision-making. And we were able to run a tight ship financially. So I think we’re going back to a model that we’re familiar with, and have a lot of confidence in. We’re not trying to deal with 10 campuses all at the same time — all of who have individual needs and different funding models for their student health centers. We’re confident that moving back is going to be a good change for the students on our campus.

93106: What was the process for making the decision?

Fleming: We’ve worked to keep our students informed throughout the process, both through the Associated Students organization and the Graduate Student Association. Student Health also hosted open forums and worked closely with their Student Health Advisory Committee.

Ferris: Based on this input and working with senior University leadership including Gene Lucas, the executive vice chancellor; Todd Lee, the assistant chancellor; Carol Genetti, the dean of the graduate division; and Michael Young, vice chancellor for student affairs, and Richard Watts, faculty advisor to the chancellor, we made a recommendation to Chancellor Yang.

93106: How soon will the new insurance plan be implemented?

Ferris: The new plan will take effect for Fall Quarter this year. We have made the decision to change to a commercial insurance plan, and now our campus leadership will soon make the final decision on the insurance carrier, the premium rates, and any benefit design changes that we want going forward.

93106: What does it mean for students as far as their benefits and their premiums?

Ferris: We expect the new benefits to be very similar to the current plan, but we are looking at some adjustments to try to lower the price for the premiums. The students will see their premiums rise, but that would have happened even if we had stayed with UC SHIP. UC SHIP is planning significant premium increases to stop the losses they were incurring.

93106: Will there be caps on lifetime coverage and prescriptions?

Ferris: No. Our plan will fully comply with the Affordable Health Care Act. This does mean that students will have to pay a little bit more, but the students clearly told us they thought that was worth it, and they are willing to pay more to eliminate those caps.

93106: Will the on-campus care change in any way?

Ferris: Campus care will not change for students in any way. Student Health feels confident that we will continue to be able to provide office visits, laboratory and X-ray done at Student Health with no charge to students who are covered by our new plan. If we had stayed with UC SHIP, we weren’t certain that we would be able to continue without additional charges.

93106: Can students still opt in to UC SHIP if they want to?

Ferris: Students on our campus will not be able to participate in medical part of UC SHIP because we will have a different insurance plan. However, we will be staying with UC SHIP for the dental and vision coverage that students currently have. That was the best financial deal at this time. Students do seem satisfied with those services, and those are not incurring any losses.

93106: Do students with existing insurance through their parents have to sign up for the new plan?

Ferris: All students are automatically enrolled in these student health insurance plans, but they have the opportunity to waive out through an online verification process that ensures their other coverage is equal to the minimums mandated by the Regents.

93106: How is the university system, or UCSB, going to address the deficit that was run up by the previous program?

Ferris: It hasn’t been determined how that will be addressed. However, the UC system is considering legal action to recover some of the losses from the consultant firm that set the premiums for UC SHIP initially, since they believe that those premiums were not accurately calculated to cover the claims that came in.

93106: How can a student share their thoughts about what a plan might look like?

Ferris: Students with ideas or concerns can contact Student Health’s Patient Advocate through our website. In addition, we will be setting up an ongoing committee that will be an advisory board to the new student health insurance, and we will be working with campus organizations to ensure that graduate students and undergraduates have ongoing representation in future decisions.

93106: How are you going to notify the students about the changes?

Fleming: We’ve already been meeting with GSA and AS, so student leadership groups already know. Student Health has been communicating by e-mail with the students who have been coming to the meetings to keep them updated. We’ll also be putting information on the Student Health website, and will be addressing the changes during Orientation when we talk about student health.

Some of the changes are things that students might not even notice. We’re moving to a different insurer, but the overall concept is pretty much the same as it’s always been. I think it will feel fairly seamless for students, other than there will be a change in the costs, which also would have occurred if we had stayed with UC SHIP.

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