Penn State University: Penn State names Highmark Blue Shield to oversee medical, prescription benefits 

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Highmark Blue Shield will partner with Penn State for employee medical and prescription benefits starting on Jan. 1, 2023. Highmark Blue Shield will replace Aetna and CVS Caremark, which has been the University’s third-party administrator (TPA) for both the medical and prescription drug benefit plan for the last five years. Penn State’s contract with Aetna and CVS Caremark ends on Dec. 31. More information will be provided to employees throughout the fall and will be shared during online and in-person presentations, as well. 

Faculty and staff plan designs, contribution percentages to remain the same 
As Penn State transitions to Highmark for 2023, faculty and staff will not see changes to medical plan designs – which include copays, deductibles, and coinsurance — or contribution percentages (employees covered by a collective bargaining agreement should refer to their applicable contract). The shift to Highmark Blue Shield will provide employees access to more providers and partnerships, as well as a dedicated concierge customer service team focused on assisting employees with health care questions and issues and helping to maximize their benefits. The concierge customer service team is available immediately. 

While a vast majority of Penn State’s benefits-eligible employees and families already visit physicians and facilities that are in the Highmark Blue Shield network, certain providers may not be considered in-network. Employees who have questions about their individual providers can visit the Highmark website, contact their care provider, or call Highmark Blue Shield at 844-945-5509 to confirm their physician’s status. 

Sara Thorndike, senior vice president for Finance and Business, said Penn State’s health contribution percentages will remain the same for faculty and staff through the transition and for a fifth year in a row.  

“We understand that health care and prescription drug benefits are highly personal and critical to all eligible faculty and staff, and we remain committed as a University to providing our employees with access to high quality medical care, while keeping our plan designs and out-of-pocket costs the same,” Thorndike said. “Highmark Blue Shield is a national leader in the health care benefit industry and is committed to partnering with Penn State and the University’s other key health care provider partners. Their partnerships in Pennsylvania and throughout the United States are strong, and a vast majority of the providers who our employees visit are already part of Highmark’s network. We are confident that this new partnership positions us to continue offering our employees the excellent medical and prescription drug benefits they depend upon now and will offer them positive health care experiences.”

Other employee benefits not related to medical or prescription insurance coverage, such as dental, vision, optional life insurance, long-term disability, and accidental death and dismemberment benefits, will not be impacted by the transition to Highmark.  

Comprehensive information, including answers to frequently asked questions, is available on the Penn State Human Resources website. Employees who have additional questions can call HR Services at 814-865-1473. 

In addition to the community and provider partnerships Highmark Blue Shield has today, all benefits-eligible employees can access the Penn State concierge customer service team at 844-945-5509 to navigate their entire health care journey and maximize their benefits.  

An ongoing process
Penn State is self-insured, which means the University and its employees together cover the full cost of employee health care and prescription drugs each year. The University contracts with companies such as Aetna or Highmark to administer its medical and prescription benefits plans, and regularly revisits those contracts with the goal of maintaining access to high quality care and controlling costs for employees. A core team of leaders at Penn State including key members of the University’s Health Care Advisory Committee (HCAC), Human Resources, and administration collaborated to finalize this new partnership with Highmark Blue Shield.

“Following review, the team selected Highmark to administer the plan for the next three years. Throughout, our goals were to minimize impacts on employees by keeping the current plan designs in place, maintaining out-of-pocket expenses at current levels, providing access to excellent care, and minimizing disruptions, and controlling costs for employees and the university,” Thorndike said.

“I’m pleased there was an option to keep deductible levels, coinsurance, and the University’s HSA contributions the same while not making any fundamental change to the benefit plan design,” said Dennis Scanlon, distinguished professor of health policy and administration, and a member of the HCAC.

Additional opportunities to learn more and ask questions throughout the fall 
Starting in September, and as part of Penn State’s annual Benefits Open Enrollment process, Penn State Human Resources will provide opportunities for employees at all campus locations to ask questions and learn more about the transition. 

To provide the University community with up-to-date benefits enrollment information, Penn State’s HR team will partner with Highmark Blue Shield to provide presentations throughout the commonwealth, as well as online, beginning Sept. 20. 

“We encourage our benefits-eligible employees and/or their spouses or partners to attend these meetings to learn more about Penn State’s new medical and prescription drug benefit plans, and the new offerings available to them as part of our partnership with Highmark,” said Jill Musser, interim senior director for benefits.  

Benefits Open Enrollment begins on Nov. 1 and runs through Nov. 18. 
Comprehensive information is available on the HR Benefits Open Enrollment web pages. The site includes: 

Explanations of the two health plan options, which will be renamed to Lion Traditional (formerly PPO Plan) and Lion Advantage (formerly PPO Savings Plan); 

Answers to frequently asked questions; 

Dates, times, and locations for in-person presentations, as well as links to a series of online webinars; and 

Decision support tools to help employees choose the coverage that’s best for them. 

During the presentations (in person or via webinar), attendees will receive an overview of the upcoming 2023 benefits and prescription plans and will be able to ask questions. Prior to the benefit presentations, HR strongly encourages all benefits-eligible employees to review plan options on the HR Benefits Open Enrollment website.   

“We remain committed to providing affordable benefits for our University employees, and this partnership with Highmark will help us meet that commitment,” said Jennifer Wilkes, Penn State’s interim vice president for human resources. “We are excited about the opportunities our partnership will provide, for example, enhanced employee services through Highmark’s dedicated concierge team, as we continue in our work to support the health and well-being of our employees.” 

LAST UPDATED SEPTEMBER 7, 2022Highmark Blue Shield will partner with Penn State for employee medical and prescription benefits starting on Jan. 1, 2023. Highmark Blue Shield will replace Aetna and CVS Caremark, which has been the University’s third-party administrator (TPA) for both the medical and prescription drug benefit plan for the last five years. Penn State’s contract with Aetna and CVS Caremark ends on Dec. 31. More information will be provided to employees throughout the fall and will be shared during online and in-person presentations, as well. 

Faculty and staff plan designs, contribution percentages to remain the same 
As Penn State transitions to Highmark for 2023, faculty and staff will not see changes to medical plan designs – which include copays, deductibles, and coinsurance — or contribution percentages (employees covered by a collective bargaining agreement should refer to their applicable contract). The shift to Highmark Blue Shield will provide employees access to more providers and partnerships, as well as a dedicated concierge customer service team focused on assisting employees with health care questions and issues and helping to maximize their benefits. The concierge customer service team is available immediately. 

While a vast majority of Penn State’s benefits-eligible employees and families already visit physicians and facilities that are in the Highmark Blue Shield network, certain providers may not be considered in-network. Employees who have questions about their individual providers can visit the Highmark website, contact their care provider, or call Highmark Blue Shield at 844-945-5509 to confirm their physician’s status. 

Sara Thorndike, senior vice president for Finance and Business, said Penn State’s health contribution percentages will remain the same for faculty and staff through the transition and for a fifth year in a row.  

“We understand that health care and prescription drug benefits are highly personal and critical to all eligible faculty and staff, and we remain committed as a University to providing our employees with access to high quality medical care, while keeping our plan designs and out-of-pocket costs the same,” Thorndike said. “Highmark Blue Shield is a national leader in the health care benefit industry and is committed to partnering with Penn State and the University’s other key health care provider partners. Their partnerships in Pennsylvania and throughout the United States are strong, and a vast majority of the providers who our employees visit are already part of Highmark’s network. We are confident that this new partnership positions us to continue offering our employees the excellent medical and prescription drug benefits they depend upon now and will offer them positive health care experiences.”

Other employee benefits not related to medical or prescription insurance coverage, such as dental, vision, optional life insurance, long-term disability, and accidental death and dismemberment benefits, will not be impacted by the transition to Highmark.  

Comprehensive information, including answers to frequently asked questions, is available on the Penn State Human Resources website. Employees who have additional questions can call HR Services at 814-865-1473. 

In addition to the community and provider partnerships Highmark Blue Shield has today, all benefits-eligible employees can access the Penn State concierge customer service team at 844-945-5509 to navigate their entire health care journey and maximize their benefits.  

An ongoing process
Penn State is self-insured, which means the University and its employees together cover the full cost of employee health care and prescription drugs each year. The University contracts with companies such as Aetna or Highmark to administer its medical and prescription benefits plans, and regularly revisits those contracts with the goal of maintaining access to high quality care and controlling costs for employees. A core team of leaders at Penn State including key members of the University’s Health Care Advisory Committee (HCAC), Human Resources, and administration collaborated to finalize this new partnership with Highmark Blue Shield.

“Following review, the team selected Highmark to administer the plan for the next three years. Throughout, our goals were to minimize impacts on employees by keeping the current plan designs in place, maintaining out-of-pocket expenses at current levels, providing access to excellent care, and minimizing disruptions, and controlling costs for employees and the university,” Thorndike said.

“I’m pleased there was an option to keep deductible levels, coinsurance, and the University’s HSA contributions the same while not making any fundamental change to the benefit plan design,” said Dennis Scanlon, distinguished professor of health policy and administration, and a member of the HCAC.

Additional opportunities to learn more and ask questions throughout the fall 
Starting in September, and as part of Penn State’s annual Benefits Open Enrollment process, Penn State Human Resources will provide opportunities for employees at all campus locations to ask questions and learn more about the transition. 

To provide the University community with up-to-date benefits enrollment information, Penn State’s HR team will partner with Highmark Blue Shield to provide presentations throughout the commonwealth, as well as online, beginning Sept. 20. 

“We encourage our benefits-eligible employees and/or their spouses or partners to attend these meetings to learn more about Penn State’s new medical and prescription drug benefit plans, and the new offerings available to them as part of our partnership with Highmark,” said Jill Musser, interim senior director for benefits.  

Benefits Open Enrollment begins on Nov. 1 and runs through Nov. 18. 
Comprehensive information is available on the HR Benefits Open Enrollment web pages. The site includes: 

Explanations of the two health plan options, which will be renamed to Lion Traditional (formerly PPO Plan) and Lion Advantage (formerly PPO Savings Plan); 

Answers to frequently asked questions; 

Dates, times, and locations for in-person presentations, as well as links to a series of online webinars; and 

Decision support tools to help employees choose the coverage that’s best for them. 

During the presentations (in person or via webinar), attendees will receive an overview of the upcoming 2023 benefits and prescription plans and will be able to ask questions. Prior to the benefit presentations, HR strongly encourages all benefits-eligible employees to review plan options on the HR Benefits Open Enrollment website.   

“We remain committed to providing affordable benefits for our University employees, and this partnership with Highmark will help us meet that commitment,” said Jennifer Wilkes, Penn State’s interim vice president for human resources. “We are excited about the opportunities our partnership will provide, for example, enhanced employee services through Highmark’s dedicated concierge team, as we continue in our work to support the health and well-being of our employees.” 

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