On-campus health care should be option for all students, not just those with UC SHIP
By Omar Said
Oct. 25, 2018 11:18 p.m.
Health care isn’t the reason students come to UCLA. But it could be the reason they don’t stay.
UCLA’s Arthur Ashe Student Health and Wellness Center is charged with addressing the medical needs of students. Paired with Counseling and Psychological Services, the Ashe Center provides students the care they need while being conveniently available on campus.
At least, that’s how it’s meant to be.
Things look a lot differently for students who aren’t part of the University of California Student Health Insurance Plan, the health care plan offered to students at UCLA and other UCs. Students who already have insurance they wish to use, be it from their parents or another source, must waive UC SHIP. This practice is allowed by health care rules set forth by former President Barack Obama that permit young Americans to continue to use their parents’ health insurance until age 26. This means teenagers just starting college can focus on their studies, not their health care coverage.
Once students start to need care at the Ashe Center, though, that precious health care can become meaningless in an instant.
The Ashe Center does not accept any insurance except UC SHIP. This means that students who waive UC SHIP and opt to stick with the insurance they already have can find the process of receiving health care a lot harder than they might have expected.
Students who don’t have UC SHIP are forced to pay for on-campus health visits, from the Ashe Center or pharmacy, via BruinBill, directly absorbing the cost of care. This can be a huge problem, as large payments to the Ashe Center can require students to take on the cost themselves and wait weeks or even months for reimbursement from their insurance companies.
Treatment at the Ashe Center can range from $12 to up to $507 for certain specialist visits. Between paying their Ashe Center bills and finally receiving a reimbursement from their insurance companies, students could be out hundreds of dollars they could otherwise use to pay rent or buy food.
The university must change the Ashe Center’s policies so it can directly bill outside health insurance providers. By moving the responsibility of health care billing from provider to patient, UCLA is forcing students who cannot afford UC SHIP to spend their hard-earned money on insurance – or worse, not attend on-campus health facilities.
John Bollard, the chief of operations and chief financial officer for the Ashe Center, said the reason it doesn’t accept outside insurance is because the billing process is very complicated. Bollard added 65 percent of the student body, about 28,000 to 29,000 students, has UC SHIP. Of the 35 percent who have waived UC SHIP, a majority have Kaiser Permanente health insurance, he said.
But Kaiser’s policies mean they don’t reimburse patients for care at third-party facilities like the Ashe Center, meaning even the Ashe Center couldn’t bill them. The fact that a majority of students use either UC SHIP or Kaiser has made it hard for the Ashe Center to assess the demand for outside insurance billing.
But those few students who don’t have Kaiser nor UC SHIP cannot be expected to bear the high costs of care at the Ashe Center.
In the 2017-2018 fiscal year, which Bollard said lines up pretty closely with the academic year, Ashe saw 27,5000 unique patients for a total of 110,000 visits. Of those who visited, 80 percent had UC SHIP, compared to the 63 percent of undergraduates and 64 percent of graduate students in total that have it. The fact that those with UC SHIP are overrepresented in the Ashe Center’s numbers indicates students without UC SHIP are making use of the Ashe Center less often than those who have it.
That’s not surprising given the Ashe Center’s treatment of those without the UC’s health care plan. UC SHIP, which costs undergraduates $2,225.70 and graduate students $3,901.94 a year, can itself be a problematic option. The plan lacks flexibility, such as in use off-campus or in other states, meaning a student cannot rely exclusively on it either. The Ashe’s Center’s exclusive use of UC SHIP traps students into choosing between two bad options: pay for UC SHIP and make use of their parents’ insurance plans concurrently, or give up on the idea of seeking campus health care altogether.
Yes, students can go off campus to find a practitioner within their insurance network. But the quarter system prevents students from having huge amounts of time to track down who they can go to in Los Angeles. It also isn’t easy for Bruins to get to places far away from campus given Los Angeles’ notorious traffic and sluggish public transportation. The cost of Uber or Lyft trips to these outside practitioners would cancel out the savings students would be looking to get anyway.
UC SHIP is a giant; one a cabal of UC Health Centers, UC Regents and the UC Office of the President have propped up for years. If the Ashe Center is truly committed to caring for the students on campus who are told to rely on it, the center must gain approval to bill outside health insurance providers – and in a timely manner. Students cannot be expected to carry this burden, especially when directly billing insurance is a service most doctor’s offices already offer.
The Ashe Center calls itself a student health and wellness center. What it shouldn’t be, though, is a health and wellness center for some.