UCSB Employees Cry Foul over Health Plan Changes

Proposal Would Reduce Treatment Options at Cottage, Sansum

UC Santa Barbara Faculty Association President Nelson Lichtenstein addresses the crowd at a UCSB Health Care Town Hall Forum. Seated on stage, from left: Tricia Hiemstra, UCSB Human Resources Director; Kum-Kum Bhavnani, chair of UCSB Academic Senate; Dwaine Duckett, UC Vice President of Human Resources.

The University of California recently unveiled changes to its health insurance plans, including an axing of Anthem plans that will reduce UCSB employees’ options to get treatment at Sansum Clinic and Cottage Hospital. Hundreds of UCSB faculty and staff gathered on campus Thursday to voice their concerns about the changes, railing against being left out of the negotiations and now being asked to decide on new plans in the next several weeks before they take effect in January.

For the entire UC system, Anthem plans will no longer be available in 2014, and neither will an existing Health Net HMO plan. To replace the Anthem plans, the university system will offer UC Care, a three-tiered system, and a Blue Shield Health Savings Plan. Two of its current HMO plans — one through Kaiser and another called Health Net Blue & Gold — will remain as options.

UCSB employees are upset, though, over the first tier of UC Care, a $20 copay PPO plan which has contracted primarily with UC medical centers, which UCSB doesn’t have. And the only medical facilities in the area that have agreed to accept Tier 1 so far — negotiations with insurance representatives for Sansum and Cottage are still ongoing, UC officials say — are in Lompoc, Santa Maria, and Ventura. The second tier of UC Care — also a PPO plan — will work at Sansum and Cottage, but it will charge patients for 20 percent of their services (with a $3,000 cap for individuals and $9,000 for families). Sansum and Cottage will also be available through the aforementioned Health Net Blue & Gold HMO.

Still, UCSB employees are crying foul, saying that the Office of the President should have taken Santa Barbara’s medical provider landscape into account when making its changes. On Thursday, they said they were angry about the lack of a Tier 1 plan in the area and resented having to wait and see if negotiations with Sansum and Cottage result in Tier 1 eventually becoming an option. “If that’s the best the Office of the President can do right now, you’ve failed,” said Stuart Feinstein, a professor of molecular biology for the past 27 years. “This is reneging on a responsibility. This is a completely unacceptable and unsatisfying situation.”

Dwaine Duckett, the vice president of human resources for the university system’s Office of the President (UCOP), answered questions at the meeting, and said that the university’s pending separation from Anthem — 750 UCSB employees are currently enrolled in Anthem plans, according to UCSB’s HR director, Tricia Hiemstra — is due to the company’s slated price increases, with plans scheduled to go up by $60 to $175 per month. Duckett noted repeatedly that UCSB employees will still be able to get treated at Sansum and Cottage, but acknowledged their strong frustration over losing that top-tier PPO option. “I understand when people talk about change and couch it as minor change,” he said. “Minor change is something that somebody is going through.”

Nelson Lichtenstein, a history professor and the president of the UCSB Faculty Association, chalked up the UC’s changes to pure dollars and cents. “The UCOP is looking for ways to save money — that’s what they do,” he said, adding that he resented that UCSB employees have been made into “negotiating pawns” between the university system and Sansum and Cottage. “We have to demand the university to solve it so we have the same benefits as before,” he said, adding that an electronic petition circulated to UCSB staff could make their anger loud and clear. Attendees suggested that the other UC campuses that won’t be without the Tier 1 plan subsidize the cost for UCSB employees until an agreement can be reached between the university and medical providers, a suggestion Duckett said wasn’t an option.

As of deadline, further details on possible negotiations between Cottage, Sansum, UCOP, and UCSB were unavailable.

Editor’s Note: University officials originally stated the Tier 2 cap was $5,000. This story has been corrected to reflect the actual amounts.


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