New assembly bill proposes removal of healthcare caps

Megan Diskin

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UC Berkeley graduate student Kenya Wheeler and Asseblyman Dr. Pan at the office of the UC President. Photo credit courtesy of the Office of Dr. Richard Pan

CLARIFICATION: The following quote has been changed to reflect the CSU wanting to provide access to education for students, not just healthcare. “Our main mission is to provide access to students. Whether or not you have health care or not, we want to provide higher education,” said Stephanie Thara, web communications specialist for the CSU.

California Assemblyman Dr. Richard Pan, representative of the 9th district, has introduced new legislation that would impact student health insurance for UC and CSU students.

AB 314 was introduced to the Assembly Health Committee, which passed March 19. The bill would end medical coverage caps for students under the UC health plan and is now going to the assembly floor.

“AB 314 ensures that students have the same insurance coverage any other employee gives under the Affordable Care Act,” Pan said of the bill.

UC schools require their students to have medical insurance and has created its own health plan to provide for students. UC Berkeley graduate student Kenya Wheeler has been heavily involved in the fight to pass the bill.

Wheeler was diagnosed with a rare form of blood cancer called primary CNS lymphoma located in his brain in October 2011. Surgery and chemotherapy were part of his treatment. Wheeler quickly found that he was reaching the caps to his medical coverage and eventually faced bankruptcy.

“Not only did I have cancer but how would I afford the medications,” Wheeler said during a press conference.

Wheeler said that just the medication alone was expensive because he needed a special kind of drug to treat his illness. Wheeler even married his girlfriend of three years so he would be eligible for Caltrans health insurance.

But the UC cap on medical coverage wasn’t enough.

Wheeler joined Pan at the State Capitol to testify before the Assembly Health Committee about the need for the lifetime caps to be eliminated. He said that President Barack Obama’s Affordable Care Act made it illegal for there to be lifetime caps on medical coverage, a detail which Pan recognized as well.

“The Affordable Care Act does not address student health plans. And it is not regulated by the federal government, but states can regulate it,” Pan said.

The CSU system is different than the UC when it comes to health insurance because the CSU system does not require that students have health insurance.

“Our main mission is to provide access to students. Whether or not you have health care or not, we want to provide higher education,” said Stephanie Thara, web communications specialist for the CSU.

Pan said that currently the CSU system contracts their student health coverage plans out to other companies, but that if in the future the CSU formulates and offers their own plan these lifetime caps would be eliminated.

“We want to make sure that that health plan doesn’t have lifetime caps. The UC is currently in with this issue but it’s something we want to protect all students from,” Pan said.

Pan also said that many CSU students go to UC schools for graduate programs and that they may finally be able to get treatment for something that they were diagnosed with during their undergraduate education.

“I’m very proud to carry these bills. We want to ensure that students have all the protections that other Californians have,” Pan said. “It’s all about empowering students.”