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March 5, 1998

Employees will see small hikes in vision, dental insurance plans

Beginning July 1, the nearly 3,100 faculty and staff members who buy vision insurance through Pitt will be asked to pay more per month for the benefit.

But employees may need sharp eyes to see the difference. Monthly premium hikes in the plan will range from just 45 cents to $1.39.

The monthly rate for employees with individual coverage will increase from $3.30 to $3.92. For two-person coverage, the monthly premium will increase from $6.60 to $7.05. Family coverage will go up from $8.21 to $9.60 per month.

The new rates will remain in place for two years. Highmark OptiChoice will continue to be the insurer.

For most of the 2,600 employees who buy dental insurance through the University, rates will not increase during the next two years. The exceptions will be those with family coverage through the plan's dental maintenance organization (DMO). For those employees, rates will go up by $2.50 per month, an 8 percent increase.

The cost of DMO family coverage will increase mainly because it's the only dental insurance option at the University that covers orthodontic care, Pitt Human Resources officials said.

While dental rates will remain largely unchanged, Pitt is switching insurers — dropping Prudential Insurance Co. of America in favor of a Highmark Blue Cross/Blue Shield subsidiary called United Concordia Companies, Inc.

Compared with the bid submitted this year by Prudential, United Concordia offered lower rates, coverage of more dental procedures, and a larger network of dentists, especially in the areas near Pitt's four regional campuses, said Ron Frisch, associate vice chancellor for Human Resources.

About two-thirds of the doctors in the Prudential network also belong to United Concordia's network, according to Frisch. "If your current dentist isn't in the United Concordia network, he or she can call United ConCordia for information on how to join," he said.

From the University's point of view, United Concordia has the added advantage of enjoying a closer working relationship than Prudential with the Pitt dental school's faculty practice plan, Frisch added.

At the University's insistence, United Concordia will assume treatment of current Pitt patients whose long-term care will continue past July 1, said Jim Edgerton, Pitt director of Compensation and Benefits.

"That means, if you're a Pitt employee who currently has dental coverage through Prudential, and you're in the middle of a course of treatments that's scheduled to go beyond July 1, United Concordia will honor Pru-dential's agreement and charge you according to Prudential's current fee schedule until your treatment is finished," Edgerton said.

Under the Prudential DMO, which limits patients to the company's network of dentists, the current monthly premiums for Pitt employees are $11.54 for individuals and $30.01 for family coverage.

Under Prudential's traditional option, which allows patients to choose their dentists, Pitt employees pay monthly premiums of $15.41 for individuals and $40.06 for family coverage.

Highmark Blue Cross/Blue Shield will mail packets to Pitt employees next week, outlining its dental and vision insurance options and monthly rates.

The University began offering its faculty and staff optional dental and vision insurance two years ago. Unlike employee health insurance (which will cost Pitt about $20 million this year, and nearly $24 million during the fiscal year that begins July 1), the dental and vision plans cost the University nothing except for administrative expenses such as processing paperwork and explaining coverage options to employees. Faculty and staff pay 100 percent of the cost of Pitt's dental and vision plan premiums. In return, employees get group rates that are lower than they would pay on their own for the same coverage.

— Bruce Steele

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