Illustration by Joe Lai.
Illustration by Joe Lai.

Graduate students will soon be seeing a decrease in their medical services if plans to cut their healthcare coverage follow through.

Earlier this month, Lisa Sloan, dean of graduate studies and professor of earth sciences, asked the Graduate Student Association to approve cuts to current levels of coverage for the Graduate Student Health Insurance Plan (GSHIP). 

Graduate student Patrick Madden is part of a coalition called “Protect GSHIP,” a student coalition made up of about 20 students working to prevent these cuts from happening. 

“What’s on the table is basically a cut to the quality of healthcare,” Madden said. “There’s clearly a budget crisis, but we simply don’t make enough money to shoulder those burdens.”

These cuts could increase the cost of co-pays for doctor visits and emergency care, decrease lifetime coverage limits and increase co-pays for prescription drugs, including those taken on a regular basis for chronic conditions. The effect will be an increase in out-of-pocket expenses for prescriptions. 

“We get about $5,000 a quarter and healthcare,” Madden said of the salary graduate students receive. “That’s $15,000 to $20,000 a year, and it’s a [medical coverage cut] that’s directed towards a group of people that aren’t being paid much to begin with.” 

Madden said that the issue came about in early spring when Blue Cross/Blue Shield, the medical insurance company with which UC Santa Cruz has a contract, informed the university that in order to maintain the same level of coverage, rates would have to go up 33 percent.

The university refused to raise all rates by 33 percent and decided instead to contact the graduate program and ask them to decrease their coverage, Madden said.

The main concern for Protect GSHIP are the graduate students who need continuous health maintenance or coverage in a medical emergency.

“The worry is for people that have serious chronic problems and people who may need surgery or emergency medical care,” Madden said. “We just don’t make enough money to take that chance.”

Diane Mesa, insurance assistant for the UCSC Health Center, said that as of right now, grads and undergrads receive almost identical insurance plans.

“Grads and undergrads have the same plans,” Mesa said. “But for psychological services, grad students get about 36 visits and undergrads get about 24.” 

As well as receiving more coverage for psychological services, graduate students receive dental coverage, something that undergrads do not receive in their plan.

Mesa also discussed some of the other future changes to the graduate student healthcare plan.

“Next year they will be raising doctor visit co-pays and raising out-of-pocket expense,” Mesa said. “They will be changing the reimbursement from 85 percent to 80 percent and raising the ER co-pay from $50 to either $100 or $150.” 

Madden said that with these changes and more, UCSC’s population of approximately 4,000 graduate students, compared to about 12,000 undergrads, should not be responsible for carrying this weight on their shoulders.

If the administration follows through with its plans to alter the graduate student health plan, co-payments for doctor visits will rise, regardless of whether the student is covered by Blue Cross.

“There will be a decrease in the lifetime limit for coverage, and an increase in co-pays for out-of-network doctor visits and in-network doctor visits,” Madden said. “We don’t want to get lost in statistics. We feel that we simply can’t be asked to give up our meager levels of compensation.”

Members of Protect GSHIP hope to meet with vice chancellor David Kliger and graduate studies dean Sloan sometime soon, although their previous attempt to meet with Kliger earlier in the month was not successful.

Madden brought up the apparent disparity between administrators’ salaries and benefits extended to the student population.

“[Kliger] makes about $250,000, and Dean Sloan makes 10 times what a grad student makes,” Madden said. “That’s where the money is, and a lot more can be cut from the top than from people who are already making poverty-level wages.”

Kliger and Sloan earn $257,166 and $152,400 respectively, according to the Sacramento Bee.

Protect GSHIP is part of a larger coalition known as the New UC.  So far, the coalition has collected 300 signatures in petitions against the potential healthcare changes. However, it was simply not enough to grab the administration’s attention, Madden said.

Mesa pointed out the option of turning to the Santa Cruz Medical Foundation, located off campus. Also covered by Blue Cross, the SC Medical Foundation charges less out-of-pocket than the Health Center, because they charge only for procedures.

“Santa Cruz Medical Foundation is like an umbrella,” Mesa said. “They just charge for the X-ray, not the physician reading the X-ray.”

Although the Santa Cruz Medical Foundation provides slightly cheaper out-of-pocket expenses, Mesa said that given the number of students at UCSC, the Health Center provides much easier and more reasonable access.

According to Madden, all the coalition wants is for its cause to be acknowledged by both the administration and their peers.

“We’re trying to just let people know what’s going on,” Madden said. 

Protect GSHIP is resolved not to go down without a fight, regardless of the outcome.

“You can’t squeeze blood out of a turnip, as the saying goes,” Madden said. “When it comes to their money, apparently we’re not all in this together.”