Skip to Navigation
University of Pittsburgh
Print This Page Print this pages

May 15, 2014

Senate committee continues efforts to publicize benefits

The University Senate benefits and welfare committee spent its last meeting of the academic year on May 8 discussing fresh ways to communicate the full range of Pitt benefits to fellow faculty members.

“Communication … was really our goal this year,” said chair Angelina Riccelli, dental medicine faculty, who was re-elected as committee head during the meeting.

The committee is planning to look into publicizing more benefits and benefits changes through periodic small brochures. Committee member Linda Tashbook, of the law school, suggested that addiction resources be the focus of one such brochure, since “addiction is so prevalent,” she said.

Tashbook also pressed the group to find ways to publicize Pitt wellness programs, while other committee members questioned John Kozar, assistant vice chancellor for Human Resources, about changes in the University’s wellness benefits for retirees.

Kozar explained changes in, and conflicts between, Silver Sneakers, offered by Highmark for those with Medicare Advantage health benefits, and Silver and Fit, formerly offered by UPMC. Those taking advantage of one “silver” plan could not use a health facility that had an exclusive deal with the other plan. That conflict now is moot, as UPMC dropped Silver and Fit on Jan. 1, 2014, instead giving a $250 allowance per year toward membership in a fitness facility. “It’s a nice offset,” Kozar said.

He reported that roughly 500 employees had attended three benefits fairs on the Pittsburgh campus during the open enrollment period.

“It’s been a quiet year,” he said, with fewer employee concerns about benefits changes than in previous years. Chief among the changes was a 3.5 percent increase in the cost of medical insurance premiums this year.

“The thing we’ve received the most comment on was, ‘Where’s my letter from Unum?’” Unum, which offers long-term care insurance to Pitt employees, sent letters to policy holders beginning March 28, detailing a 25 percent rise in premiums on July 1, 2014, followed by increases of 25 percent on July 1, 2015, and 20 percent on July 1, 2016, for a cumulative 88 percent increase. The letters also explained how participants may keep, reduce or eliminate their coverage, in the latter case retaining their premiums in an account for eventual payout, should they require long-term care.

“Most, I think, are going to keep the benefit as it is,” said Kozar, who reported only one policy withdrawal so far. Employees have until October to make a decision.

Riccelli asked Kozar to compare Unum’s offering to other carriers’ coverage.

He said that, over the years, he has discussed with other insurance companies the possibility of covering Pitt employees’ long-term care insurance needs.

“They thought that Unum was underpriced,” he said, and those other companies have since gotten out of the market.

He also pointed out that TIAA-CREF once had offered long-term care insurance but was out of the market, and that the federal government also had studied the possibility of offering such policies but declined to do so.

He also cautioned that, should an employee decide to drop Unum and seek new coverage elsewhere — or even re-sign with Unum — the employee would pay a rate based on his/her current age.

This inevitably would be higher than the rate the employee received when signing up for Unum coverage earlier, at a younger age.

Said committee member Alan Meisel, a law faculty member: “I’ve decided to drop it, because I’ve decided that the future of the long-term care industry is precarious.”

After Kozar outlined the major retirement benefits for Pitt employees — a presentation he had given in November for a Staff Association Council brown bag seminar ( — Meisel asked how retirees could retain medical insurance coverage if they lived out of state for part of each year. He asked whether retirees could use Defined Dollar Benefit credits, which accumulate monthly for retirees and their spouses, to purchase a Medicare supplemental policy other than those offered through Pitt by UPMC and Highmark. Those plans may only pay for coverage by local physicians and facilities.

Such a move is allowed, said Kozar, and may be needed by those with an HMO policy, which covers services only in western Pennsylvania, except in emergencies.  But he pointed out that Highmark PPOs offer out-of-network coverage, with Highmark Freedom Blue allowing participants to receive in-network coverage in many other states.

Asked to detail changes in medical insurance for mental health treatment, Kozar explained that, under the Affordable Care Act, caps on the number of treatment sessions have been removed. Also, recent rule changes have set copayments for mental health treatments no higher than the cost of the most common medical copayment, which for Pitt is the primary care physician visit.

—Marty Levine