UC Berkeley students became eligible for expanded health care benefits Monday, as part of the Student Health Insurance Plan, or SHIP, terms for the upcoming academic year.
This year begins a new contract with Anthem Blue Cross after three years with Aetna. With the new plan, students gain access to a wider variety of in-network providers, as well as increased coverage for dental and vision and new coverage for some transgender-related surgeries.
Despite concerns that securing additional benefits would significantly increase costs, University Health Services, or UHS, spokesperson Kim LaPean said the results of the contract were both lucky and surprising.
“Pretty much everything the (Student Health Insurance Advisory Commission) fought for, and the students were telling us they want, was put into place,” LaPean said. “The future conversations are looking at how do we keep our benefits strong while decreasing costs.”
In the months leading up to the plan’s announcement in March, the campus worked with students on SHIAC to determine target benefits for negotiations with Anthem Blue Cross, including the reinstatement of dependent coverage, which was offered under SHIP from 2011 to 2014.
While the campus re-assesses its benefit packages for students on a yearly basis, LaPean said the current contract with Anthem Blue Cross is intended to last at least three years.
Michal Olszewski, a graduate student and former SHIAC member, said he hopes the benefits that went into effect this week remain a permanent part of campus policy. He added that the additions to this year’s plan are a reminder that student protests can result in real change from the campus.
“We had lots of students involved, but people graduate and move on,” Olszewski said. “You’d hate to see, for example, the dependent plan … or transgender benefits go away as a cost-cutting measure.”
The new changes, however, are not enough to justify switching from an outside provider for his almost 1-year-old son, said Marten Lohstroh, a graduate student who previously served on SHIAC. He added that while the prices are far more equitable than in previous years, they are still a significant burden for graduate students supporting dependents.
“Because the plan does not differentiate between dependent children and dependent adults, insurance for children through SHIP is still prohibitively expensive for most student families, and found much cheaper elsewhere,” Lohstroh said in an email.
Monday was the final deadline to waive SHIP in favor of a comparable health care plan. Students who have yet to opt out are required to pay SHIP coverage fees, which are slightly more than last year — $1,306 for undergraduate students and $2,073 for graduate students.