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October 9, 1997

Pitt seeking bids from 5 health care insurers

The University has asked five health insurers to bid for its employee medical insurance business.

Pitt's three-year, exclusive contract with Highmark Blue Cross and Blue Shield (formerly Blue Cross/Blue Shield of Western Pennsylvania) expires June 30, 1998.

For the next contract, the Pitt Human Resources office has requested proposals from HighMark, HealthAmerica, Pyramid Health, Tri-State Health System and U.S. HealthCare.

"Bitter rivals" is a cliche in health care reportage these days, but it's an apt description of the five insurers.

Tri-State is a division of the UPMC Health System. Pyramid Health is a network formed by Allegheny General Hospital, UPMC's major local competitor.

HealthAmerica fought a long, doomed war with Highmark during 1994-95 for Pitt's employee health insurance business. Highmark won an exclusive contract — despite widespread faculty opposition, and thanks largely to support from UPMC; the two were collaborators and potential partners at the time. But since then, UPMC and Highmark have become business rivals.

U.S. HealthCare had just begun moving into the western Pennsylvania market at the time Pitt was negotiating its last medical insurance contract. The company has pushed hard for local business since then, and presumably would covet a contract with Allegheny County's largest employer.

At least one of the medical insurance options available to faculty and staff next year will be a non-managed care plan, Faculty Assembly was told Oct. 7.

Herbert Chesler, a faculty representative on a faculty-staff group that advises the Office of Human Resources on medical insurance, said Human Resources has followed the group's recommendation to insist on a non-managed care option — that is, not a Health Maintenance Organization (HMO), Preferred Provider Organization (PPO) or any other plan featuring a "gatekeeper" such as a primary care physician.

The advisory group also had a hand in drafting the proposal requests sent to the five health insurers, Chesler said.

In other Assembly business, the chairperson of a special Senate committee on the status of faculty appointments shared preliminary data his committee has collected.

Mark Ginsburg reported that Pitt's faculty appointments since the mid-1970s have mirrored a national trend: Among Pitt full-time faculty, the total percentage of those with tenure has remained fairly stable (41.8 percent of all Pitt full-time faculty had tenure in 1974, compared with 46.2 percent in 1985 and 39.6 percent in 1996).

But the percentage of full-time faculty in the pipeline for tenure has fallen steadily since the 1970s (35.2 percent of all Pitt full-time faculty were in the tenure stream in 1974, 17.4 percent in 1985, and 11.9 percent in 1996).

And the proportion of Pitt full-time faculty outside the tenure stream has risen sharply (22.9 percent in 1974, 36.4 percent in 1985 and 48.5 percent in 1996).

From 1980 to 1996, the number of Pitt part-time faculty increased from 569 to 667.

University-wide, the total number of faculty rose from 2,892 in 1980 to 3,851 in 1996. The medical school alone added nearly 1,000 faculty members — the great majority of them clinical faculty outside the tenure system. Several Faculty Assembly members recommended eliminating medical faculty from the special committee's study, or at least keeping in mind the school's very different hiring pattern and fiscal system.

Reviewing several pages of densely printed charts provided to his committee by Pitt's Office of Institutional Research, Ginsburg emphasized that the committee has held just one meeting so far. "What kind of sense we make out of these data, and what if anything our committee might recommend based on our analysis of these and other data, will obviously have to wait until our committee has had at least one more meeting," Ginsburg said.

Ginsburg is scheduled to give another report on his com-mittee's activities at Monday's Senate Council meeting.

In another report, Richard Tobias, interim chairperson of the Senate's anti-discriminatory policies committee, said the committee wants to know how much money Pitt's administration plans to spend fighting a discrimination complaint against the University by former law school instructor Deborah Henson.

Henson filed the complaint in January 1996 with the Pittsburgh Human Relations Commission, alleging that Pitt violated a city anti-discrimination ordinance by refusing to extend health care coverage to her same-sex partner.

Rather than pay outside attorneys thousands of dollars to fight Henson's complaint, the University should permit each employee to designate one person in his or her household to receive medical benefits now granted only to spouses, Tobias argued. "This has nothing to do with morality. It could be a wife, Uncle Charlie or Aunt Minnie," he said. Pitt's Human Resources office has estimated that extending faculty and staff health benefits this way would cost Pitt about $20,000 annually, Tobias said.

Tobias said he has written to Chancellor Nordenberg about the matter and plans to ask him at Monday's Senate Council meeting to estimate Pitt's legal bill in fighting the complaint by Henson.

The Human Relations Commission has not yet scheduled a hearing to determine the merits of Henson's complaint.

— Bruce Steele

Filed under: Feature,Volume 30 Issue 4

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