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January 12, 2012

Senate Matters: Benefits info at your fingertips

Benefits information at your fingertips

The Senate benefits and welfare committee works closely with the University’s Human Resources (HR) administration on health and welfare benefits, wellness and retirement programs and related matters on behalf of active and retired faculty and staff. The committee also serves as an advocate for protecting and advancing a highly competitive benefits program for the University community, including students. Enhancing the communications value of HR information-sharing initiatives is also a primary committee theme.

The HR web site,, recently was updated and HR continues to make employee-responsive modifications for ease of use. In addition to being a must-see destination for information on all types of benefits — health and wellness, education and retirement — it also provides resources to support and enhance the life of the Pitt employee. These include information on work-life balance topics such as family care at all stages of life, perks such as discounts, updated policies and procedures and training opportunities.

Additionally, look for full-page HR update ads in the University Times and regularly updated HR brochures summarizing benefits.

Detailed information on topics discussed at benefits and welfare committee meetings is available in the minutes posted on the University Senate web site at All agenda topics generate much committee discussion, increasing the chances of outcomes favorable to faculty and staff.  Recent topics discussed by the committee include:

• Express Scripts, the UPMC Health Plan pharmacy benefits manager, and Walgreens Pharmacy could not come to terms on a new contract. Therefore, Walgreens no longer is part of the University’s pharmacy network. A letter has been sent by UPMC Health Plan to affected participants.

Express Scripts also is purchasing Medco, which currently administers prescription drug business for Highmark.

• Effective Oct. 1, 2011, the administration of Pitt COBRA and retiree benefits was moved to UPMC’s Benefit Management Services (BMS). These services previously were handled by Highmark, whose decision to leave the third-party administration business prompted a national search by Pitt for a replacement contractor and the selection of BMS.

• Student health insurance recently was converted from a manual to a totally paperless system with eBenefits, a third-party administrator. Voluntary vision and dental benefits now are offered to all full-time students with the new system.

• Patricia Cluss, associate professor of psychiatry, gave a presentation on Standing Firm, an organization she heads. Standing Firm educates employers about the cost of partner violence (domestic violence) in the workplace and can assist employers and employees in working proactively to address violence. Steps include expanded awareness training, upgrading workplace safety plans and better communication regarding community resources.

A management referral could be made to LifeSolutions, the University’s faculty and staff assistance program, noted Sandra Caffo, LifeSolutions’ senior director, who also attended the presentation. With a single call, a manager could activate multiple guidance or intervention resources.

A formal partnership between Standing Firm and the University is being discussed.

• Diane Holder, president and CEO of UPMC Health Plan, explained UPMC’s position regarding the contract dispute with Highmark.  A handout detailing 33 questions that need to be worked out with Highmark was distributed to the committee.

Since Holder’s presentation, UPMC and Highmark have extended their agreement through June 2013 so that UPMC hospitals and doctors will continue to be available at the current cost to Highmark subscribers. The parties continue to work on a long-term contract.

Irene Kane is chair of the University Senate benefits and welfare committee.

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