The Santa Monica Community College District board of trustees voted Monday, November 7th, to increase the student health fee from $12 to $14 per semester for fall and spring semesters and from $9 to $11 per session for summer and winter sessions.

The fee increases take effect in the spring and are the result of the passage of California State Assembly Bill 982, which mandates that all community college students pay the health fee and removes Board of Governors waivers for low-income students.

The Board of Governors is the state committee that regulates community college districts and provides funding recommendations.

Thomas Donner, college district interim president, said only apprentice students and students with religious reasons can get a health fee waiver from the Board of Governors.

“Fees get increased based on a state formula,” Donner said. “More than likely, the health fee will go up by one dollar next year, if it goes up at all.”

If the Santa Monica Community College District had not raised the health fee, the college district would have had to grant fee waivers itself to low-income students and not be reimbursed by the Board of Governors.

“AB [Assembly Bill] 982 came about because there were so many health centers in the state that had to close or reduce their services for students,” said Gloria Lopez, college district nurse and health services coordinator.

“We were losing so much money when students got Board of Governors fee waivers. Health services are necessary because a student who is unwell either physically or psychologically will not succeed in a college setting.”

Robert Adams, college district vice president of student affairs, said the district annually enrolls 7,000 to 8,000 students who receive Board of Governors fee waivers.

With a $2 increase in the health fee, the college district could collect up to $112,000 per year, with all of the funds going to the Santa Monica College Health Services Center.

Lopez said the college district would be able to hire a nurse practitioner and/or a physician with expertise in a specialty that students need.

“We don’t have a nurse practitioner or a physician,” Lopez said. “We are a five-star college district with a two-star health services center that operates on a kindergarten-through-12th grade school nurse model.”

She said more than 53 percent of the 180 community college districts in the state have health centers and can afford to hire nurse practitioners or one physician.

To offset any hardship to low-income students caused by the health fee increase, Adams said the college district would work hard to get more grant funding for those students.

“We will rebuild our efforts to make sure students get Federal Pell Grants and other types of financial aid,” Adams said. “We will set up mechanisms to collect as much grant money as possible.”

Adams said health associations statewide lobbied intensively for the passage of AB 982 and most community college districts support the legislation.

Lopez lobbied Donner for more health center funding and the Santa Monica College Health Services Association lobbied Laird.

“Given the fact that AB 982 has now passed and Board of Governors students are required to pay the same health fees as the entire community college, we think this is the fairest way to provide health services to all students because no student is turned away if they have insurance or don’t have insurance,” Lopez said.

The Santa Monica College Health Services Center sees an average of 50 students on a slow day and 115 students on a busy day.

Students with major illnesses have been referred to Santa Monica clinics, to Harbor-UCLA Medical Center in Torrance, or to Los Angeles County/USC Medical Center in east Los Angeles.

Lopez said some students have had to wait 16 hours to be treated at either of those medical centers.

“Right now, our community resources are great and they provide us with gynecological services, free HIV testing, and a lot of free immunizations,” Lopez said. “But we don’t have what students need, and that is someone here for them when they walk in or someone who can prescribe medications.”

College district trustees had mixed feelings about increasing the health fee, but they unanimously voted for the increase, with student trustee Belinda Phillips abstaining.

“The Associated Students board of directors wholeheartedly supports the Santa Monica College Health Services Center,” Phillips said. “But with the adoption of Assembly Bill 982, we have reservations about increasing the health fee and we believe that Board of Governors fee waiver students will be severely impacted.”

Trustee Margaret Qui“ones — who was appointed to the Board of Governors last year by Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger — did not want to vote for the increase but changed her mind after hearing Lopez list the health service advantages.

“I raised the same issue at the Board of Governors meeting, and I understand Assemblyman Laird and all of the lobbying that went on,” Qui“ones said. “But for some students, the health services center is the only healthcare they get and it doesn’t make sense to me that they are charging the poorest students.”

Trustee Nancy Greenstein said the benefits of the health fee increase outweigh the consequences.

She said Greenstein was pleased that Adams would look into ways to help low-income students find more grant money and she wants the college district to make sure that no student is hurt by the increase.

“Prevention is the key and it is a lot less expensive than having students go to clinics or private physicians they can’t afford,” Greenstein said. “Things would be better if we can do more for students on campus.”