The University of California, Berkeley recently decided to drop dependent coverage from its student health care plan. The decision touched off a small, but loud protest among the students who depended on the plan.
The student dependent health care plan covered the dependents of 122 students, but, according to student family organizations, many of those students may have been minority students and international students with families, including possibly some students seeking a higher education who are not in the United States legally.
Kim Lapean, communications manager for UC Berkeley, said the university doesn’t have records on the ethnicity of dependents that were covered under the dependent plan.
Unlike the student health care program that is mandatory for the 36,000 students enrolled at the school unless they can provide proof they are covered on another plan, the student dependent coverage was voluntary. The student dependent plan covered 200 dependents of students at the college and provided an affordable option to student dependents.
The announcement was made in April and affected families of undergraduates as well as graduate students, including those students who are considered university employees while earning their advanced degrees.
Lapean said the decision to drop student dependent health care was a tough one, but, like every organization and employer across the country, health care premiums are skyrocketing and the decision came down to what benefits the most students.
Lapean said the university’s mandatory Student Healthcare Insurance Plan (SHIP) for students covers 22,000 students and is separate from the dependent plan. However, changes in the health care law under the Affordable Care Act do not allow any organization to offer “cafeteria” style health care and mandate that premiums be equally spread out.
Lapean said the significant increases in premiums and co-pays would have had to have been spread out among the majority of students who don’t have dependent coverage. “Students are very sensitive to price increases, and, to help mitigate the rising costs of health care, we had to do what was best for the majority,” Lapean said.
Those increases would have meant undergraduates would have paid an additional $193 and graduate students would have paid an additional $384 per year, on top of existing premium increases. Graduate students would be paying more than $4,100 for SHIP.
The costs for dependents would have changed dramatically as well, Lapean said, with graduate students with one dependent paying $4,138. For graduate students with two children on the dependent plan, their premiums would have increased by 84.5 percent. Insurance for two children on SHIP was $4,232 per year for a graduate student. Next year, it would have cost $7,807.
Lapean said that the ACA and exchange options associated with that provided students and their families with other options.
Caitrin Connolly-Olszewski, whose husband, Michael, is earning his Ph.D. in microbiology, said that the student family association on campus believes those numbers were exaggerated and that some people may not be able to receive the coverage they need on the exchange.
“The stats show that the people on that dependent plan are very sick; they are high users of the plan,” said Connolly-Olszewski. “There are a lot of people who may not get the coverage they need on that plan.”
Connolly-Olszewski also added that immigrants who don’t have legal status in the country—if there are any—would not be eligible for the exchange through the ACA.
Lapean said that the university’s broker, which is through Aetna, indicated that many colleges and other organizations are dropping dependent coverage as a way to cut premium costs.
Connolly-Olszewski also disputes that, saying that other colleges in the University of California system have kept dependent coverage, with the exception of UC Santa Barbara, which also dropped its dependent coverage.
“We all operate separately when it comes to health care,” said Lapean. “We really believe we made the right decision on our campus for the majority of our population.”