November 4, 2014
To the UCSB Community:
With the 2015 open enrollment month now upon us, it is clear that those in the UC Office of the President who designed and/or administer UC Care and other health insurance options have once again failed to address the manifest inequities and problems that the transition to UC Care has generated for those of us who work at UC Santa Barbara.
System-wide, UC faculty and staff have all faced network problems and cost increases as a consequence of the OP effort to make UC medical facilities central to the health delivery system for UC employees. This transition has generated difficulties at all campuses, but at Santa Barbara the elimination of Anthem/Blue Cross and the introduction of UC Care as a replacement have resulted in a series of inequities related to level of care, the cost of care, and the availability and continuity of care. What are those inequities?
- As residents in the Santa Barbara/Goleta city area we don’t have the same number of health care plans available as at other UC campuses. Specifically, we do not have the option of signing up for Kaiser because we live outside of their treatment area. This general lack was not addressed by the health care administrators when it was brought up at the various town hall meetings last year. A survey conducted by the system-wide Human Resources office of the University of California found that Santa Barbara policy holders had the lowest level of medical plan “satisfaction” in Southern California, second lowest among UC campuses overall.
- Although the October 2014 UC brochure, Take 5: To make the most of your benefits, claims that the year-old UC Care insurance option offers a tier-one option, this standard is actually incomplete in the Santa Barbara area. Cottage Hospital, by far the best medical facility on the Central Coast and the traditional locus for quality health care in our community, is not a full participant in UC Care. Sansum Clinic has signed on to UC Care, but only on a year by year basis. Santa Barbara Select HMO, an association of independent physicians serving our community, is not part of the UC Care tier one network. Meanwhile, other UC campuses without medical centers, notably Santa Cruz and Riverside, have been able to convince officials in the Office of the President to negotiate with and secure UC Care tier-one coverage by local providers and hospitals in their communities.
- UCSB faculty and staff who have chosen UC Care have had to pay more for specialists and hospital care (using the tier-two Blue Shield option) because they lack access to enough tier-one providers.
- Moreover, during the past year faculty who have chosen UC Care have found this option problematic for the following reasons:
- Many patients have tried to switch doctors and sign up with Sansum primary physicians. However they have had to wait as long as six months for an initial appointment.
- Wait times for nearly all appointments for services have been very long because the Sansum system is overloaded. This has limited accessible and timely health care.
- Lack of information. UC personnel in Oakland who administer the plan have shown that they are not entirely aware of our situation here in Santa Barbara. The UC Care website has been unclear about services, difficult to use, and has not been updated in a timely fashion.
- The lack of a contracted hospital and other local services has meant that UCSB faculty have had to pay the very large deductible ($9,000 per family rather than $5,000 under the old Anthem/Blue Cross Plus plan) to get high quality services at home or have had to incur extra costs related to traveling for services.
- The absence of a tier-one hospital in Santa Barbara is dangerous because it requires severely ill patients who cannot afford out of network fees to travel to UCLA or Ventura for needed medical services. UCLA/Reagan is a superb facility but inconveniently located. Ventura is not a top quality hospital. In neither will Santa Barbara patients have ready access to their local physicians.
- Pregnant women, especially those with potential complications, may find prenatal and delivery services difficult to find within a safe and acceptable distance.
- Such distance and inconvenience also have implications for faculty and staff with major illness or disabilities since traveling for care adds to patient and family stress and the cost of commuting, lodging and lost work time.
- So, why not sign up for Health Net Blue and Gold and have greater options within Santa Barbara? Health Net does not offer the access to specialists that some people need and on which they depend. The former Anthem/BlueCross Plus plan included more doctors in tier-one than UC Care. It included Santa Barbara Select HMO and Sansum as options.
- In sum, the failure of UC Care to include the best Santa Barbara medical facilities and physicians within its tier-one network is dangerous and expensive. It pushes costs onto patients and their families and asks them to switch to an overloaded and narrowly constructed network. Many patients have simply chosen to incur the extra costs necessary to use the tier-two provider network and thereby have access to Cottage Hospital.
The UCSB Faculty Association believes that top UC administrators have left us out in the cold when it comes to quality health insurance. At the heart of all insurance lies the pooling of risk and the relative equalization of premiums, services, and other benefits and expenses. The University of California should adhere to these principles in its administration of the new UC Care insurance plan.
We therefore call upon Chancellor Henry Yang to appoint a high-level committee of faculty and staff empowered to meet with UCOP officials, including President Janet Napolitano, in order to make certain that UC Care and other UC approved insurance offerings are thoroughly revised and reconfigured so that Central Coast employees of UCSB have access to quality health care on a basis not inferior to that at other UC campuses.
The Executive Board of the UC Santa Barbara Faculty Association
Nelson Lichtenstein, President