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March 14, 1996

Employees can buy into vision, dental plans as part of new benefits

Beginning July 1, Pitt faculty and staff will have three new fringe benefits options: purchase of dental insurance and vision insurance, and the ability to borrow money against their TIAA-CREF retirement accounts.

Pitt retirees aged 65 or older will gain a new, Blue Cross-affiliated medical insurance option.

Interim Chancellor Mark Nordenberg approved the new options last week. They will cost the University nothing except for minor administrative expenses such as processing paperwork and explaining the new options to employees.

Faculty and staff will pay monthly premiums for dental and/or vision coverage. Payments will be withheld from employee paychecks before federal taxation.

Detailed information about the new options will be included in a packet of materials to be mailed to employees early next week as part of the University's annual open enrollment for fringe benefits, said Ron Frisch, Pitt director of Compensation and Benefits.

This year's open enrollment runs March 18 through April 20. During that time, faculty and staff may make changes in their benefit selections. Changes will go into effect July 1, the beginning of Pitt's fiscal year.

Faculty and staff who want to buy dental insurance may choose between two plans offered by the Prudential Insurance Co. of America: a dental maintenance organization (DMO) and a standard option.

The DMO provides higher benefits and lower monthly premiums than the standard option for most care, but it restricts participants to Prudential's network of dentists. The standard option allows participants to use any dentist they choose.

Under the DMO, the monthly premium for individuals will be $11.54. DMO monthly premiums for any of the four other types of coverage to be offered here (husband/wife, parent/child, parent/children, and family) will be $30.01.

DMO benefits include diagnostic and preventive care (100 percent coverage), basic restorative (80 percent), major restorative (60 percent) and orthodontia (50 percent). There are no deductibles, no annual maximum, and no lifetime orthodontia maximum, although orthodontic coverage is limited to dependent children aged 19 or younger.

Under the standard option, monthly premiums will be $15.41 for individuals and $40.06 for husband/wife, parent/child, parent/children, and family care.

Standard option benefits include diagnostic and preventive care (100 percent), basic restorative (50 percent) and major restorative (50 percent). Deductibles range from $50 to $500, and orthodontic work is not covered.

The standard option will be available at all five Pitt campuses. Prudential DMO currently has dentist networks in the Pittsburgh, Greensburg and Titusville areas but not near the Bradford and Johnstown campuses. Prudential says it plans to develop networks in the Bradford and Johnstown areas.

To participate in either the DMO or standard option, employees must enroll for at least two years or until they leave the University.

Vision insurance coverage will be offered by network doctors of Blue Shield OptiChoice, with monthly premiums of $3.30 for individuals, $6.60 for parent/child or husband/wife coverage, and $8.21 for parent/children or family coverage.

In-network benefits include 100 percent coverage of eye exams, a limited selection of frames, and most lenses and contact lenses. Medically necessary contacts will not be covered by Blue Shield OptiChoice because they already are covered by Pitt Blue Cross plans.

For out-of-network care, Blue Shield OptiChoice will pay allowances ranging from $24 to $72. Participants can obtain eye exams, frames and contacts once every 24 months.

To participate, employees must enroll for at least two years or until they leave Pitt.

Under the new TIAA-CREF loan provisions, employees will be able to borrow from $1,000 to $50,000 or 45 percent of their accumulated TIAA funds, whichever amount is lower.

The employee's TIAA account would be collateral on the loan, yet employees would continue to earn interest on the total amount of their TIAA accumulations held prior to the loan, even as they were repaying their loans.

Loans will be available only from TIAA accumulations, not from CREF, but employees may transfer money from their CREF accounts to TIAA to increase the amount of money available for a loan.

Interest rates will be based on Moody's Corporate Bond Yield Average, which generally is lower than rates charged by banks for personal and home equity loans.

Employees will have five years to pay back the loan, or 10 years if the loan is used to buy the employee's primary residence. Loans must be repaid immediately if the employee leaves the University.

The new Blue Cross Medicare health maintenance organization available to Pitt retirees, SecurityBlue, will provide faculty and staff with a managed care alternative to Medigap and major medical coverage.

The federally subsidized plan charges no premiums to the retiree or to the University, in contrast to the major medical coverage that Pitt purchases for its retirees and to employee-purchased Medigap plans. Under Medigap, retirees pay monthly premiums ranging from about $40-$120 for supplemental coverage beyond that offered by basic Medicare.

— Bruce Steele

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