Friday, October 9 , 2015, 11:39 am | Fair 81º

UCSB Parent Presses School on New Requirement to Buy Campus Health Insurance

College limits primary-care providers to 30-mile radius, excluding Kaiser Permanente patients by 10 miles

New this year at UC Santa Barbara is a requirement that all students must have a primary-care provider within 30 miles of the campus health center or purchase a Gaucho Health Insurance plan. Some parents have argued the distance is arbitrary and a way for the college to rack up cash.
New this year at UC Santa Barbara is a requirement that all students must have a primary-care provider within 30 miles of the campus health center or purchase a Gaucho Health Insurance plan. Some parents have argued the distance is arbitrary and a way for the college to rack up cash.  (Lara Cooper / Noozhawk photo)

By Lara Cooper, Noozhawk Staff Writer | @laraanncooper |

Josie Macias admits she had quite a bit of sticker shock when she learned how much money it would take to see her daughter through four years at UC Santa Barbara.

Her daughter will be a freshman at the school this fall, and is Macias’ first child to attend college.

She won’t be receiving any financial aid, but the cost of tuition wasn’t the only thing that raised the San Jose mom’s concern.

Macias said she was told she’d have to purchase university health insurance for her daughter, even though she’s already covered by the family’s Kaiser Permanente health plan, Aflac supplemental accident insurance and a flexible savings account for additional medical expenses.

UCSB health officials have said it’s key for students to have a health-care provider that is convenient or they may not go in at all, and say they’ve seen student health issues escalate as a result.

Macias, however, wonders if it’s an easy way for the university to rack up cash.

Purchasing an additional insurance policy will mean $2,500 each year, she said, up to $10,000 in extra costs the family doesn’t have over her daughter’s college years.

That’s because for the 2014-2015 school year, UCSB students must have an in-network doctor and hospital providing full nonemergency medical and behavioral health care within 30 miles of the campus health center. Kaiser Permanente does not have a facility in Santa Barbara County.

The new mileage requirement was established this year by each campus and depends on the accessibility of providers in the area local to campus, according to a statement from the UC Office of the President.

The mileage varies for each campus, from 175 miles at UC Davis, the widest radius, to 30 at UCSB, UC Berekley, UC Santa Cruz and UC Hastings College of the Law.

Macias said she has questions about how that radius was decided upon, because the closest Kaiser primary-care facility from UCSB is 40 miles away in Ventura, just 10 miles outside of the radius.

“It’s not consistent across the board,” she said. “Why is it set to 30 when it’s only 40 miles away for Kaiser?”

Many people from the Bay Area have Kaiser insurance plans and Macias suspects many students and their parents might be surprised they’ll be forced to buy the additional insurance this fall.

Dr. Mary Ferris, director of UCSB Student Health, sent a statement to Noozhawk about the plan, saying the distance requirements had been established by individual campuses based on medical resources available locally.

“At UCSB, we have found it to be vitally important that students’ health insurance be available for nonemergency local care, and not restricted to a distant county or another state,” she said.

Because UCSB offers the Gaucho Health Insurance at a competitive price, Ferris said, “there is no profit for the university, and every attempt is made to control costs through continuous utilization evaluation and benefit design, based on the advice of students and other campus officials.”

Decisions about the Gaucho insurance plan at UCSB are made by an advisory committee that includes undergraduate and graduate students, deans and campus officials from various departments as members.

“This committee strongly advocated for the mileage requirement based on past experiences with students who had inadequate local health insurance,” Ferris said.

Macias counters that her daughter has a car and would be able to drive to Ventura for primary-care visits, she said.

“I don’t understand what all the pushback is,” she said.

Looking at the rates for the non-Gaucho Health Insurance costs, Macias said she’s found it’s $50 to see a doctor on campus.

“That I can afford,” she said. “It’s just wrong what they’re doing ... It’s sort of a cash cow. If she never gets sick, they keep all that money.”

Macias has submitted a form asking UCSB to waive her daughter’s need to purchase the insurance but has yet to hear back on whether school officials will approve it.

She suspects she’ll probably have to change providers to avoid the costs, because the family is about $30,000 short for the costs of college, “but now I’m $40,000 short.”

Noozhawk staff writer Lara Cooper can be reached at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address). Follow Noozhawk on Twitter: @noozhawk, @NoozhawkNews and @NoozhawkBiz. Connect with Noozhawk on Facebook.

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