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March 20, 2003

No decision yet on health care options

The rates that staff and faculty will have to pay for Pitt health insurance after June 30 still have not been set, Vice Chancellor for Human Resources Ronald W. Frisch said yesterday.

“There are some things we’re asking the vendors for that we don’t have acceptance on yet. There are some things that the vendors are asking for that we’re still negotiating,” Frisch said.

His use of the word “vendors” — plural — indicated that more than one health insurer is still in the running for Pitt’s business, an inference that Frisch said he was “not at liberty” to confirm.

The University’s current, exclusive contract with UPMC Health Plan expires at the end of June. The upcoming open enrollment period, during which employees must sign up for new plan offerings, is expected to run from April 14 to May 23, Frisch said.

Pitt benefits director Nancy Gilkes said the University’s next health insurance contract probably will be for one year, in contrast to Pitt’s current, three-year deal with UPMC Health Plan.

Under that plan, the University’s premiums were locked in at rates set three years ago. Pitt therefore has been spared the double-digit annual hikes that have hammered other employers nationwide.

But Pitt’s health insurance costs are expected to rise substantially July 1. To what extent those hikes will be absorbed by the University and by its employees, respectively, will be decided by Pitt senior administrators.

In the meantime, the University Planning and Budgeting Committee — an advisory group of faculty, staff and administrators — is scheduled to meet today (March 20) to study various health insurance plan options, as well as where Pitt can find the money in next year’s operating budget to absorb health insurance increases.

“We’re doing everything in our power to keep the integrity of the current plan, and what is currently offered, intact,” Frisch said. “Now, will we be calling certain plan options by different names? Will we be using some different formulas? It’s possible. Those things will be decided at the 11th hour.”

It’s also possible, he said, that Pitt employees will have to do more choosing among health coverage options to minimize their costs under the new plan — opting for higher co-pays in exchange for lower monthly premiums, for example.

— Bruce Steele

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