UC Student Health Insurance Plan

UC launches student health insurance program

Students at the University of California will have expanded health insurance benefits and more stability in premium costs this fall under a new, universitywide health insurance plan.

The university created the student health insurance plan after concluding it could negotiate lower health care rates and offer a wider array of benefits with the adoption of a centralized plan. Historically, each UC campus has managed its own student health plan.

Graduate students Alberto Ortega Hinojosa, left, and Jason Tien, with UC President Mark G. Yudof. The pair won the President's Award for Student Leadership for their work on the UC Student Health Insurance Plan.

Students at all 10 UC campuses and Hastings College of the Law will participate in the program beginning in August. Students will have comprehensive medical and mental health coverage, dental and vision benefits, and the ability to enroll spouses and children.

The plan incorporates strong benefits from each of the existing plans, said Heather Pineda, director of the UC Student Health Insurance Plan. The result: Every campus will offer some new benefits they didn’t have before.

In aggregate, UC students will receive about $5.4 million in additional benefits, yet save $8.4 million on premiums during 2011-12, according to university estimates.

“Under this plan, everyone is protected, and we have better pricing and stronger benefits than before,” Pineda said.

Students also will experience less inflationary pressure on premiums over the next few years because UC has negotiated multi-year price guarantees on services provided by insurance companies, she said.

UC began looking at creating its own student health insurance plan in 2008 as a way to tamp down rising health care costs without sacrificing benefits. Graduate students on six of UC’s campuses began using the insurance plan last year.

“There were significant savings and improved benefits, so we decided to expand the insurance plan to all students, including our undergraduates,” Pineda said.

The program is part of the university’s Working Smarter initiative, which aims to reduce costs and improve UC’s administration operations. Student health services directors from each UC campus worked to develop the plan, as did staff from UC’s Office of the President. The work group was led by co-chairs Joseph Castro of UC San Francisco and Fred Wood of UC Davis, both vice chancellors of student affairs for their respective campuses. In addition, a mix of graduate and undergraduate students participated, with representation from every campus.

Two of those students — Jason Tien, a Ph.D. candidate in neuroscience at UCSF and Alberto Ortega Hinojosa, a Ph.D. candidate in public health at UC Berkeley — received the President’s Award for Outstanding Student Leadership for their work.

In acknowledging their efforts, President Mark G. Yudof told the UC Board of Regents in May that the students had contributed “great energy and ingenuity” to the effort and spent more than two years on the project.

The student health insurance plan “has reduced cost and broadened insurance benefits for our students, including making it possible to offer long-sought dependent coverage,” Yudof said. “Their success demonstrates the vital importance of student involvement and leadership in university initiatives.”

Students will continue to have an important role in the plan, Pineda said. The university is creating a UC SHIP advisory board that will include students from every campus.

“Since the plan exists for the benefit of students, their input is crucial,” she said.

Although students will see some increase in premiums this fall, costs are generally lower than they would have been if individual campuses had negotiated their own rates, Pineda said. And since UC bears the risk associated with paying medical claims, it can avoid the fees insurers charge for assuming the risk.

Premiums and medical providers will continue to vary from campus to campus, but all students will have the same strong core benefits, including:

  • Free preventive care;
  • A $200 annual deductible that is waived for on-campus student health services, pharmacy purchases, off-campus office visits, emergency or urgent care visits;
  • 90 percent coverage for in-patient hospitalizations, outpatient surgery and many other services;
  • Mental health care and substance abuse treatment covered at the same level as any other medical condition;
  • An out-of-pocket maximum of $3,200.

Under the plan, enrolled students will use on-campus Student Health Services as their primary care providers, with the cost of those services covered by the insurance plan. Students who have their own health insurance are also allowed to use Student Health Services, but their care may or may not be covered by their insurance.

UC requires its students to have health insurance as a condition of enrollment. It began requiring insurance after studies found that medical costs were one of the main reasons students dropped out of college. For low-income students, premiums are covered under student aid. Graduate student premiums are often covered through fellowships or other grants.

With up to 130,000 students expected to enroll, UC will now have the largest student health insurance program in the nation, according to Aon Hewitt, a health benefits consulting firm.