Hundreds of UCSB faculty and staff rallied for the second time to vocally oppose University of California’s recent restructuring of its health-care options. Several UC Office of the President officials visited Corwin Pavilion at UCSB last week to defend the changes and answer questions from anxious and angry UCSB employees.
The approaching changes terminate Anthem plans and an existing Health Net HMO Plan and establishes UC Care, a three-tiered PPO plan and a Blue Shield Saving Plan. The existing Health Net Blue & Gold — which 62 percent of employees utilize — and Kaiser HMO plans will continue to be offered.
UCSB employees are angry because UC Care’s Tier 1 program, which has a $20 copay, is essentially not an option for them because UC Care was created with the idea to utilize UC medical centers, which UCSB does not have. Further, UC officials say they have been unable to strike a deal with health insurance representatives for Sansum Clinic and Cottage Health System. “Our interest in this is to insist that the UC Office of the President take conditions in Santa Barbara into account,” said Nelson Lichtenstein, president of the UCSB Faculty Association.
To visit Sansum or Cottage Hospital, employees would have to choose UC Care’s Tier 2, and would have to pay for 20 percent of their treatment. Those out-of-pocket expenses will be capped at $3,000 for individuals and $9,000 for families.
Erika Rappaport, a UCSB history professor, stood up at the meeting and explained she has a chronic illness and will need multiple, expensive treatments next year. Even though her premium will go down $20 per month for family coverage, she said, she will definitely reach those caps.
Cristina Wilson, a staff employee, said in a later interview that the reason so many UCSB employees choose the Health Net Blue & Gold plan is because it is the only affordable option and not because it is a great plan. “That’s why people are so mad,” she added. “[They’re] lying to me and [they] expect me to believe this is for my own good.”
Lichtenstein also argued the list of health-care providers for the Tier 2 option is not available. He stood up and told UC officials: “Your job is to make sure access to quality health care is similar to other campuses and what we’ve had before. Quite frankly that’s your job, and we expect you to do it.”
Talk of ongoing plans to merge Cottage and Sansum also provoked confusion at the meeting. Michael Baptista, executive director for Benefits Programs & Strategy, said misunderstandings about whether or not the deal would go through complicated matters. Currently, the merger between the two large systems is pending federal approval.
Lichtenstein strongly opposes the impending merger on the grounds that a monopoly position of Cottage would negatively impact thousands of UCSB employees as UC moves to this new health-care plan. As president of the Faculty Association, he said he plans to send a letter to federal regulators before the deal goes through.
Several employees said they were angry because UC officials announced the restructuring just before its debut in January. Lichtenstein later noted the fact that so many employees have banded together is “really indicative that we don’t trust them.” The Faculty Association will hold a meeting this week to discuss the possibility of a class action lawsuit.