Thursday, February 21, 2013

Progressives Admonish University of California Healthcare Quackery

Over the nine years I’ve been at the University of California, system-wide administrators based in UCOP’s Oakland headquarters have gained a reputation for being tone-deaf, tight-fisted except when it comes to their own salaries, corporate-minded, and generally pretty indifferent to the plight of students who have seen tuition skyrocket as California disinvests from its prize institution, an object of envy to people across academic, industrial, entrepreneurial and democratic circles around the world. 

The latest example comes in their handling of healthcare matters.  One of the many improvements made by “Obamacare” (at least from the standpoint of those not invested in anti-social healthcare profiteering or in the weakening of working people) was the erasure of annual and lifetime benefits.  This, like other reforms, is designed to reorient healthcare conversation and practise towards the welfare of the public rather than the needs of a profit-driven market.  Radical as this idea has been in the United States—spawning comical invocations of “death panels” and bureaucrat surgeons—it will presumably become as uncontroversial over time here as it has in other socially-responsible countries around the world. 

UC, however, has declined to terminate these limits, and has refused to provide the preventative care also mandated by law.  Instead, UC is looking to increase the healthcare payment that all students make by 25%, a not-inconsiderable sum on top of already-unconscionably high fees.  As student representation on campus has requested, UC should be able to juggle its responsibilities to students in the short-term in such a way as to make the provision of such care manageable over the long-term.

Because of its status, UC compliance is voluntary.  But it says something about the market-oriented, uncaring people at the top of this system that their knee-jerk reaction to any budgetary difficulty is to exploit their power to pummel students.  University of California’s administrative leadership clearly does not see themselves as providing guidance for a community, or as tasked with looking out for the interests of community-members.  Instead, they appear to regard the University as a money-making venture which can somehow survive and prosper as a public institution with a public mission even though it actively undermines the capacity of undergraduate students, graduate student researchers, and graduate student instructors to go about their work by driving up costs whenever the opportunity presents itself, thereby degrading the university’s status as an institution of learning. 

Today the out-going President Mark Yudof and his staff got a wake-up call when Nancy Pelosi and other members of California’s congressional delegation wrote to complain of UC’s exploitation of the very people whose well-being engenders their raison d’être.  Hopefully they will reflect on their responsibility to their students and respond accordingly.

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