New Benefits Offered for Student Health

The UC campuses joined together this year to debut a system-wide student health insurance plan specifically for graduate students, called UC-GSHIP. According to Director of Health Services Regina Fleming, graduate students are more likely to need coverage for issues like giving birth, so the graduate student premium is separate and twice the amount of the undergraduate Student Health Insurance Policy plan. Graduate student plans cost $548 per quarter, compared to $290 for undergraduates.

In the past, the graduate health insurance programs varied with each campus. In this new system, the University of California self-insures the graduate plan. This means that the university holds the money collected from students to pay out claims and uses Anthem Blue Cross as a third-party health insurance provider.

Fleming said UC officials chose Anthem Blue Cross as a service provider because of its extensive network of providers and hospitals, called Prudent Buyer Providers, who agreed to charge lower fees to Anthem Blue Cross patients.

She said this plan is designed to cut out the middleman — such as insurance brokers used in the original campus-specific system — and is expected to provide the UC campuses with more available money to directly spend. Brokers take a premium for their job of looking for insurance companies and providing customer service. When a broker is not used and the entity — such as the UC system — funds its own insurance plan, this saves the money usually used to pay a broker’s commission.

Currently, roughly 73 percent of UC graduate students are insured under the UC-GSHIP, compared to 60 percent of undergraduate students who are enrolled in the undergraduate program SHIP.

“By joining the graduate students together as a larger group, we are able to negotiate for lower premiums and better benefits,” Fleming said. “Health insurance companies prefer to have risk spread over a larger number of people, and are willing to provide cheaper coverage for larger institutions like the University of California that make health insurance mandatory for all students.”

In addition, the Student Help Insurance Policy, influenced by new provisions from President Barack Obama’s health care reform bill, now covers pre-existing medical conditions.

“Under our old policy, if a student previously uninsured with a pre-existing condition signed up for SHIP, he or she wouldn’t be able to get coverage for that condition for the first six months,” Fleming said. “Since the healthcare reform bill went into effect, though, we no longer deny coverage for any pre-existing conditions.”

SHIP also now treats mental health conditions and physical health conditions equally, meaning that there is no longer a limit on the number of visits students can get for psychological conditions; under the old policy, patients had a maximum of one visit per day, and only up to 26 per plan year. Starting next year, SHIP will also put an end to limits on policy coverage.

Fleming is unsure how the new benefits will affect premium costs, though the current costs are the same as last year.

“These provisions are going to take a lot of pressure off people who are in need of healthcare and can’t afford it,” Warren College junior Aaron Speer said.