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March 6, 2014

Medical assistance for traveling Pitt employees detailed

pick up luggageThe University offers a program that connects world-traveling employees to health care, provides medical transportation and even flies in family members, if needed. The Assist America program is available 24 hours a day to those covered under the UPMC Health Plan.

But not everyone is familiar with the program.

Even some veteran members of the University Senate benefits and welfare committee, meeting last month, expressed surprise that the service existed, following a presentation by Diana Heredia, a senior account executive for Assist America.

Others who had used the program praised it for connecting them to speedy medical treatments, including surgery and hospitalization — although some also experienced a lengthy, though ultimately successful, process of straightening out the billing for their medical treatment from facilities unaffiliated with UPMC. Non-medical services from Assist America are free.

Pitt employees automatically are enrolled in Assist America if covered by the UPMC Health Plan. The service connects members with urgent medical care and emergency services worldwide when the Pitt employee is 100 or more miles away from home, helping to recommend and secure everything from doctors to medications. It also covers Pitt employees’ spouses and children who are covered on the employee’s UPMC Health Plan.

There are no usage or payment limits for Assist America services, which include medical referrals, help with hospital admissions and validation of insurance coverage. When necessary, the program also can provide advance payments, since some hospitals outside the UPMC network may require a guarantee of payment letter and some form of payment wired to them.

If your medical situation while traveling is not severe, Heredia said, you can visit a local doctor, pay for the visit and seek reimbursement later from UPMC. But for severe situations, you may need to take advantage of Assist America’s services, which include emergency medical evacuation or providing medical equipment that is not available at your location. In addition, the service can help you determine whether you are in a good medical facility and offers emergency trauma counseling from its certified counselors.littleLogo2

Assist America also provides transportation to additional medical facilities, if needed, once the emergency passes. “These transportations can cost thousands and thousands of dollars,” Heredia said. “You need to call us as soon as possible to arrange this.”

The service also pays for medical or non-medical visitors, such as family members or friends, as well as escorts to accompany the patient. “We realize that patients recover a lot quicker if they have a family member or friend along to encourage them,” Heredia said.

Assist America will help to replace lost or damaged prescriptions and assist with child-care arrangements, should a medical situation force a child to remain unattended. It will pay to send a family member or friend to visit those who are alone in a distant hospital for more than seven days.

The service also will help the traveler locate lost luggage, documents or other belongings, although this is not a form of luggage insurance, Heredia noted. “Luggage, nine times out of 10, we get it to you right away,” she added.

Assist America can refer Pitt travelers to interpreters or legal help during a trip, and also offers pre-trip country profiles on its website, including information about required visas and inoculations as well as current security concerns. The service can arrange for the return home of your personal vehicle, should you be unable to drive it back for health reasons.

The program also will arrange and pay for embalming or cremation and transportation home of members’ bodies, as well as embassy seals and death certificates. It also can provide emergency message transmission. “The students use this a lot to ask relatives for money,” Heredia said.

There is no place on earth the service doesn’t cover, she added, and no excluded times: “We don’t deny services because of terrorists or geographical location,” she explained. Nor does it exclude assistance for pre-existing conditions, following suicides (although suicide attempts are not covered) or in case of alcohol-related accidents. “We handle many cases of drinking and driving accidents,” said Heredia, noting that this is not illegal in all countries.

It does not, however, cover those traveling specifically for medical treatments or people transferring from one to another similar facility. Nor does it aid with unhospitalized mental disorders or anything involving unlawful acts.

An Assist America card is printable from your account; more information is available from the Pitt Benefits website’s “Coverage while away from home” button.

Assistant Vice Chancellor for Human Resources John Kozar  said that immunizations for those traveling on University business can be secured from the Allegheny County Health Department. But he also suggested that Pitt employees take advantage of the UPMC corporate health and travel program’s facility on Sixth Avenue, Downtown, which may offer access to a wider variety of vaccines. Kozar noted that vaccine expenses for employees traveling on University business usually will be reimbursed by the staff or faculty member’s department.

For more information on Assist America, go to The organization can be contacted at 1-800/872-1414 and, for nonemergencies, at

—Marty Levine