On Feb. 25, UC Office of the President will finalize its plan to combat the UC-wide Student Health Insurance Plan (SHIP) debt, and UCSD students will be left to pick up the pieces. The SHIP deficit of $49 million was caused by institutional mistakes and has affected all UC schools, but UCSD owes the most — with over 27 percent of the debt on its shoulders alone. UCOP has recently proposed possible ways to help offset the debt — from cutting dental and vision plans from SHIP, to making it even more difficult to waive SHIP in favor of an alternate health insurance plan. Another proposition would be to double the price of SHIP premiums over the course of only five years.
And all of this should leave UCSD students — particularly those who rely on SHIP benefits — with the same questions: What do we do now, and how did we get here in the first place? The answer to the first question is, at least partially, certain: SHIP prices will increase. Whether it’s by 97 percent over the next five years according to one proposed plan or the next two years as yet another plan proposes, the comfy price of $385.46 a quarter for undergraduates and $594 for graduates will be no more. While these plans may be more fiscally reasonable than the admittedly cheap SHIP premiums, the price increase does raise problems.
First, if the premium increase is in conjunction with cuts to benefits such as dental and vision care, students will be paying significantly more money for significantly less coverage. Thus, student SHIP holders would be held accountable for mistakes made by the school.
Similarly, if students have to jump through administrative hoops to prove that one has sufficient health care coverage (opting out of SHIP is already inconvenient enough), UCSD would essentially be strong arming students into the SHIP program, which is now, again, less worthwhile than ever before.
What’s more is that, seeing as each UC administrator’s plan is slightly different, goading students into SHIP reduces their autonomy when it comes to selecting a plan that fits one’s own specific medical needs (such as, for example, if a SHIP holder wanted to visit a dentist every once and awhile). At last week’s A.S. meeting, UCSD Vice
Chancellor Penny Rue even voiced the opinion that having current students take on the SHIP debt singlehandedly would be unfair. As for how these debts were accumulated, UCSD simply offered SHIP premiums for too low a price to begin with. In 2001, UCSD switched to SHIP from its own student health insurance plan — a move that Campus-wide Senator Matt Mayeda told the Guardian was a direct consequence of pressures from UCOP to join. At the time, SHIP premiums seemed outstandingly cheap. This is precisely because they were cheap — far too cheap, in fact.
This isn’t the first time UCSD has paved a road to debt with good intentions. The SHIP deficit is particularly aggravating given that we’re facing a very similar problem with UCSD transportation services. After accumulating over $2.1 million in debt this year alone, UCSD transportation services are now attempting to offset the damages. Now, parking rates have increased, and instead of receiving a free bus zone sticker at the beginning of the year, students will have to pay $36 per month to ride the busses. This massive increase has left many students furious, and organizations like the anti-transportation fee group Project Sumo are being formed in protest. It is more than likely that the changes in SHIP could elicit a similar student reaction, and the last thing UCSD needs is more campus protests.
The bottom line is that students would have willingly paid more at the onset (both for SHIP and bus transportation), but the endless bait-and-switch of pricing is both frustrating and unfair. UCSD needs to learn that, despite the good intentions, offering students cheap alternatives that are convenient yet ill-planned and fiscally irresponsible will inevitably result in serious financial problems and a subsequent blow to campus morale.