University plans for change, but hopes for health care agreement

University Park, Pa. -- Health care negotiations that affect Penn State employees are continuing, according to University leaders, who hold out hope that an agreement between Highmark Blue Shield and Geisinger Health System can be made before Jan. 1, 2011.

Last week the University announced that Highmark, the company that oversees health care administration for Penn State, and Geisinger had not been able to reach an agreement on Geisinger’s continued participation in the PPOBlue network, the network of physicians that Penn State’s health care plan uses for its active employees. If an agreement is not reached, those using Geisinger services will have to pay a higher, out-of-network cost to continue that care.

Penn State is not the only employer affected by these negotiations. The Highmark network across the state, which involves tens of thousands of workers in various companies served by Highmark, also will be affected if Geisinger and Highmark cannot come to terms on an agreement.

Penn State faculty and staff are encouraged to visit the Employee Benefits website at for the most up-to-date information, including a list of frequently asked questions.

“We have heard from a number of employees who are very concerned about their ongoing Geisinger care for maternity and cancer-related diagnosis,” said Robin Oswald, Penn State employee benefits manager. “We continue to encourage individuals with ongoing care concerns to contact Highmark about the Transition of Care plan that we have asked be implemented for our employees. While we certainly hope negotiations are successful and transition of care will not be needed, we do encourage Penn State faculty and staff to talk now with Highmark in case it becomes necessary on the first of the year.”

Oswald said that information regarding Transition of Care also can be found on the benefits website, listed above.

In addition, plans are under way to enact a special enrollment period for Penn State’s flexible health spending account in case employees need to increase their tax-free savings if Geisinger becomes an out-of-network provider. “More detailed information about this special enrollment period, if needed, will be released as we get closer to the end of the year,” Oswald said.

All Highmark Blue Shield members who have used the Geisinger hospital at Danville or who currently use a Geisinger primary care physician or specialist will receive a standard letter from Highmark outlining the negotiation situation. “This standard letter may be confusing to our faculty and staff who do not live in the Danville Hospital area. The alternative hospitals listed in the letter are those facilities that are located within a 45-mile radius of the Danville facility,” Oswald explained. “Please be assured that all local hospitals that are currently in the Highmark PPOBlue Network, for example, Mount Nittany Medical Center, are still in the network.”

Employees with questions are encouraged to contact Highmark Blue Shield at 1-800-914-4384 or one of Penn State's Employee Benefits Specialists at or 814-865-1473. Faculty and staff also are encouraged to contact their Geisinger physician’s office to voice concern about this situation as well as let them know that their participation in Highmark’s PPOBlue network is important.


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Last Updated December 10, 2010