Health plan rates going up 2.9 percent for 2019-20


The 2.9 percent increase announced for UPMC Health Plan rates in the next fiscal year holds premium hikes below three percent for the fifth straight time, John Kozar, assistant vice chancellor for University Benefits, told the University Senate’s Benefits and Welfare Committee on April 4.

While the Dental HMO will see a monthly premium increase (termed “modest” in letters recently sent to all staff by HR head Cheryl Johnson), the Dental Flex I and Flex II premiums will remain unchanged, as will vision premium costs.

New next year, as part of Pitt’s medical plan, will be a hearing aid benefit from Amplifon, offering $1,800 per ear every three years. This benefit will cover a hearing exam, hearing aid fittings and follow-up appointments, as well as a two-year supply of batteries.

Open enrollment for University benefits is April 24 to May 15. Those employees who do not wish to make any changes in their benefits selections do not need to take any actions.

Find specific dates of benefit fairs and other information about open enrollment here. There also will be two webinars on benefits on May 8 and 9.

New ways to use flexible spending accounts

Flexible spending accounts for health-care expenses can now be used at the grocery store and via Amazon, Ryan Wasileski, a senior director of UPMC Health Plan, told the committee during a presentation.

FSAs, which let you use pre-tax dollars for certain out-of-pocket medical expenses, are more flexible than you think, he explained. Just a month ago, Amazon began letting FSA holders enter their FSA card numbers on checkout, allowing the online retail giant to charge your FSA for eligible items before it charges your debit card or other payment method. And if you buy sunscreen or contact lens solution, for instance, at the grocery store or other large retailers, Wasileski suggested giving the cashier your FSA card so that such items can be paid from the FSA as well.

Amazon and your grocer’s cash register are already programmed with lists of FSA-eligible items, but you can look up specific medical expenses yourself, from AA meetings and abdominoplasty to walking aids and wart removers, at, a UPMC partner.

Wasileski said the health plan always searches for FSA-eligible items among any medical claims you make, which helps FSA holders spend down their accounts each year, since FSAs can roll over only $500 each year. UPMC sees 71,000 FSA claims annually, he said.

The value of a single carrier

Responding to a faculty member’s query about why the University offers only UPMC medical insurance — a question prompted by the switch of a physicians’ practice from UPMC to Highmark — Kozar noted that UPMC has been Pitt’s sole health benefits provider since 2000, although a small number of retirees have kept their Highmark Medicare benefits, long grandfathered in, despite the ongoing dispute between UPMC and Highmark.

While this is the first such query Kozar has fielded in about a dozen years, he said he believes physician practices will continue to switch back and forth between UPMC and Highmark, and added that many of Pitt’s other benefits are handled by single carriers, including dental, vision, life insurance and disability benefits.

“When you have a single carrier, you have leverage and you can reduce administrative costs” through streamlining of procedures, he said. “We don’t really bid out the health care benefit but we know Highmark’s business and we use that as leverage” to get UPMC’s costs down, he said.

Outlining the benefits to using a single carrier, Kozar included:

  • The ability to aggregate and analyze claims for all employees.

  • The ability to provide consistent wellness programs across the University.

  • Streamlined processing of flexible spending accounts.

  • Easier administration of government reporting.

  • Consistency of coverage decisions for medical management and prescription drug formularies.

“We recognize that the downside of having a sole carrier is a slight restriction on choice,” he added, while emphasizing the large number of physicians and hospitals connected to UPMC. “More and more often employers are going with a single carrier if they can,” he said.

Other committee news

  • Kozar announced that the UPMC MyHealth@Work clinic for Pitt employees is adding an additional health coach primarily focused on union employees, as well as a new flex space focused on the University’s comprehensive medication management effort, a Pitt lower back pain project and other initiatives.
  • Lucas Berenbrok, School of Pharmacy faculty member, has been elected committee chair, replacing Linda Tashbook, who is rotating off of the committee’s elected membership due to Senate committee rules.

Marty Levine is a staff writer for the University Times. Reach him at or 412-758-4859.