by Brian Leubitz

Over the weekend, the Wall Street Journal featured an article about student health plans. One of the cases studied was Paula Villescaz, a student at Berkeley and somebody that I have met through my participation in the California Young Democrats. She has been involved with CYD and the College Democrats for a while now, and has really been a rock star of involvement.

Unfortunately, as outlined in the article, when she got sick and actually needed health coverage, Berkeley’s student health plan failed her.

Paula Villescaz, a senior at the University of California at Berkeley, says she never looked closely at the Anthem Blue Cross insurance policy she got through her college. The plan has a $400,000 ceiling, but also has some important limitations, as Ms. Villescaz found out recently.
The political-science major had always been healthy-until March, when doctors discovered she had Ewing’s Sarcoma, a rare form of cancer. Berkeley’s plan didn’t cover her first MRI, her PET scan or many blood tests her doctors required, she says.

In between chemotherapy treatments, Ms. Villescaz says she had to battle the insurance company, which refused to cover her last round of chemotherapy, declaring it medically unnecessary. Her chemotherapy has since concluded, but she is now undergoing radiation treatment.

Ms. Villescaz says she owes about $80,000 all told. Before she got sick, she worked two jobs to support herself and help out her single mother. “I’m going to be paying off these bills for the rest of my life,” she says. (Wall Street Journal)

If anything shows the failing of our medical system, this is surely it.  Paula played by the rules. She bought health insurance from her university.  She had a right to expect that the coverage would be sufficient if she had a major medical incident. Instead, due to drawing the short straw, she is saddled with an enormous debt before she even has started her career.

And this is at the heart of the flaw in our health care system.  Even if you do everything right, you still cannot rest easy. The solution is to take health care and/or health care insurance out of the for-profit world.  Single payer would prevent these unfortunate consequences of the health industrial complex, and would serve our state, and our nation, far better than the system that we have now.

Interestingly, as highlighted by David Dayen at FDL News, a recent Pew poll shows that 40% of Americans think that the health care bill didn’t go far enough.

The poll found that about four in 10 adults think the new law did not go far enough to change the health care system, regardless of whether they support the law, oppose it or remain neutral. On the other side, about one in five say they oppose the law because they think the federal government should not be involved in health care at all. (AP)

It turns out that sometimes people want something they can really believe in. The monster that emerged from the Senate is certainly likely to improve the situation, but it isn’t the end game in any way shape or form. We have a lot of work to do before we can actually call our health care system a success.

But returning to Berkeley, I was on the same plan that Paula was on while I was getting my graduate degree in public policy.  Over the course of my four semesters there, the cost increased over 25%. It was still more affordable than many of the individual plans I could find, but it was far from a good solution.  The University fails us by not fighting harder for their students, and ensuring that the health care plan they are pitching to students will work for them.  And Anthem? Well, Anthem has made failing Californians an art form.

This failure hurts not just our students, but the future of California. Setting our students for a lifetime of economic burden is hardly a recipe for long-term success.

Originally posted Sept. 28 in Calitics. Reprinted with permission from the author.