Affordable Care Act Sparks Controversy on UCSB Campus


Allyson Werner
National Beat Reporter

The government reopened on Wednesday, Oct. 16, and, as a result, the Affordable Care Act (ACA), also known as Obamacare, has received the funding it needs.

However, to many, it remains unclear why this controversial piece of legislation caused so much hoopla. According to a document about ACA and UC SHIP (the health care program some UC campuses use) issued by the University of California, the ACA, first passed in 2010, makes three important changes to the health care system.

First, starting in 2014, insurance companies cannot deny coverage to Americans with pre-existing medical conditions. Second, almost everyone must have medical coverage or face a fine. Third, health insurance will be more affordable for low-income individuals and families due to subsidies based on household income and family size.

Students, faculty, and staff across campus have reacted to the law and the potential changes it brings to the United States health care system and UCSB’s Gaucho Health Insurance (GHI). All UCSB students are automatically enrolled in GHI unless they can show proof that they have appropriate coverage elsewhere.

Mary Ferris, Student Health’s Executive Director, shared her experience with the new law.

“UCSB students will see expanded health insurance benefits and more choices as a result of ACA,” Ferris said. “Already the new minimum benefit requirements mandated by the law have resulted in great new health insurance coverage for students: no additional cost for birth control, no benefit caps on prescriptions or annual/lifetime maximums, and no limits on any specific type of visits such as acupuncture or chiropractic care.”

Other benefits she cited are the ability for students to obtain coverage through their parents’ insurance plans and the inability for insurance to refuse coverage to patients with pre-existing conditions.

On the other hand, Ferris acknowledged that many students might opt out of purchasing GHI, which required higher premiums this year due to expanded benefits.

“For Student Health, we may be faced with many challenges to continue our high level of services if students purchase different insurance plans that require them to seek care outside of Student Health,” Ferris said.

In other words, if UCSB students choose to purchase insurance outside of the university, UCSB’s Student Health will receive less funding.

Ferris’s worries seemed largely based on concern for the wellbeing of students.

“We are worried that students will be tempted to purchase other plans with minimal benefits, based only on the lowest price, and then find themselves with huge medical costs after an emergency room visit,” Ferris said.

Ferris stated that negotiations regarding prices and coverage for 2014-15 have begun, and she encouraged students to join the GHI Advisory committee.

While Ferris’ evaluation of the ACA’s immediate effects on UCSB students seemed primarily positive, other students and faculty do not share her enthusiasm. Cameron Rankin, a UCSB third-year and Executive Director of the UCSB College Republicans, condemned the ACA for a variety of reasons.

“The most prominent [drawback] is the penalty Americans will face if they violate the mandate to purchase insurance,” Rankin said. “This penalty carries the maximum fine of 2.5 percent of an individual’s income.”

Furthermore, Rankin expressed disapproval toward the potentially rising cost of health insurance.

“As young and generally healthy people, our insurance rates historically have been the lowest of any age group,” Rankin said. “However, the new law requires that the high cost of insuring the elderly would be subsidized by passing the astronomical cost to us.”

Lastly, Rankin cited increases in taxes as a major problem for many Americans.

“There are 20 tax increases or entirely new taxes that will pull on the pockets of every American during the midst of a precarious economic recovery,” he said.

On Jan. 1, 2014, when every aspect of the ACA goes into full effect, the effects it will have on campus will become much more clear.