Thursday, March 18, 2010

Wellness programs

BCBS offers wellness programs:

1- Blue access: online member portal. As a member you get access to this site and can view medical visits, claim status etc. Check BCBS website.

2- Special beginnings: information for expectant mothers, such as on the health of the mother and baby. They have a 24hr toll-free number staffed by maternity nurses.

3- Personal health manager: online health resource; info and tools to help maintain you health.

Life Insurance

Every post-doc is automatically enrolled in life insurance ($12,000) and the university pays for all of it. You also get $12,000 in case of accidental death. Additional insurance can be purchased in $10K increments, max $200K.

J-1 and J-2 visa holders will also be covered for medical evacuation and repatriation of mortal remains.

Dental insurance

Dental insurance is voluntary, so you need to actively choose to enroll. You can only do this during open enrollment period each year (usually in November) or within 30 days of when you first start as a post-doc at the university. Exceptions are if you have a life changing event (marriage, birth of child, your spouse lost health insurance etc) then within 30 days of the life-changing eventyou can make changes outside the open enrollment period. If you missed this period or made a mistake and chose the wrong plan, you will need to wait until the next open enrollment to make any changes. We will again continue to have PPO dental insurance just like last year, which means you can pick and choose any doctor whenever you need to see one, as long as they are in-network. However, you have 2 options to choose from within this PPO; high and low options.

Here’s a summary of benefits but as always, you can find more info on the GP website:

At a glance:

High-option costs $48.77 per month per individual ($167.11 for family); $1500 max benefit per person per year

Low-option costs $21.82 per month per individual ($54.55 for family); $5000 max benefit per person per year

There’s quite a bit of a price difference between the two and it’s confusing at first why this is; especially since it seems it should be the other way around when it comes to the premium you pay vs. the benefit you get. From what I understand, high option is the best if you’re planning to use out-of network doctors a lot, since the insurance pays the same if you see an out-of-network doctor or an in-network one. But this freedom comes at another cost, i.e. the max benefit you can claim is much lower in the high option. The only instance that I can think of when this may make sense is if you have a spouse/children in another state and you want to include them in your plan. Otherwise, you’re better off with the low option. Not only you pay less premium, you also get a higher max benefit.

Other than the difference between the premiums and max benefits, both options come with the same basic procedures included in the plan. They include, but are not limited to, 2 routine exams per year, 2 teeth cleanings per year, x-rays etc. So if you’ve paid your premiums all year, you should at least make an appointment to get your teeth cleaning done before the end of December; you’ve earned it. For more complex procedures such as fillings, wisdom teeth removal, root canal etc, both options pay about 80% of the bill for in-network doctors, but you need to first satisfy a $60 deductible if you have the high option before the insurance kicks in. For a list of all included procedures, please check the website.

Vision benefits

Health insurance through Garnett-Powers comes with vision benefits, through Davis Vision.

Vision benefits (Davis vision discount program):

one eye exam and contact lens evaluation/fitting every 12 months ($10 copay) in HMO

one eye exam and contact lens evaluation/fitting every 24 months ($15 copay) in PPO

If you have HMO, you don’t need referral from your PCP. Insurance pays some of the cost on glasses and contact lenses. You also get discount on Laser vision correction. For a list of Davis Vision providers, go to or visit

Health Insurance

I went to a seminar by a representative from Garnett-Powers in December 09 and here is a summary of what I understand it was all about. I hope it helps post-docs in making decisions about which healthcare plan to choose. The numbers represented here is for individual medical coverage only. For family coverage, or for a complete list of things covered, please check GP website (

The healthcare coverage that post-docs held for the year 2009 is changed from UHC PPO to Blue Cross Blue Shield of Illinois (BCBSIL) starting January 1st, 2010. Post-docs did not have a choice other than a PPO plan for the previous year, but with the BCBSIL, we now can choose between a PPO and a HMO plan for medical insurance. If you did not make any changes, then you are automatically enrolled in the new PPO plan as of January 1st. With the new BCBSIL plan, rates have also gone up (your paycheck will be ~$10 less a month). PPO is more expensive than HMO but only by a couple of dollars and you have the option of choosing.

We will continue to have PPO dental insurance but have the option of PPO or HMO for medical insurance.


Calendar year deductible: the total amount you pay in a calendar year before the insurance begins paying.


If you choose HMO, you have to choose an in-network primary care physician (PCP) and he/she becomes the gatekeeper. You need to go to your PCP for all non-emergency medical related issues. He/she will then refer you to an appropriate specialist, which means a second trip to the doctor’s. You cannot just pick a doctor when you need to see one without seeing your PCP first. One nice thing is that, any doctor in the hospital that’s available that day can be your PCP, even a registered nurse (RN). You can also change your PCP once a month. In HMO plan, if you see an out-of network doctor, you pay it all out of pocket (no benefit at all).

HMO doesn’t have deductibles, so every time you are admitted to a hospital you need to pay $250 until you reach $1500/individual, then you don’t pay anymore and there’s no lifetime max on the benefits received. Co-pay is $10 for routine exams.


PPO plan is more flexible than HMO in that you don’t need to see a PCP, you can just pick any doctor you want. Benefits are also greater for in-network doctors, i.e the insurance will cover more if the doctor is within their network, which means less out-of-pocket costs to you. If you see an out-of-network, you’ll pay more out-of pocket.

There’s a $250 yearly deductible, it pays 100% once you satisfy this deductible. This means that max out-of-pocket is $250 but it’s hard to reach that limit unless you get hospitalized and have major surgery. Co-pays do not count towards the deductible. Routine physical exam is $15 co-pay, as well as mental health visits. There is a lifetime max benefit, which is $2 million per individual. This may seem like a high amount, but if you have major accident or get a long-term illness, it’s very easy to reach that limit. There’s no such limit if you have HMO.

Going to the ER is $75 but if you go to an urgent care center the co-pay is $30.


HMO doesn’t have deductibles, so every time you are admitted to a hospital (does not include regular exams) you need to pay $250, until you reach the $1500 max out-of pocket (in PPO, once you satisfy the deductible, you are covered %100).

i.e. if you go to a doctor for regular exam (outpatient service):

PPO $15 co-pay, rest is covered 100%

HMO $10 co-pay, rest is covered 100%

If you check into a hospital (inpatient service):

PPO: $250 once and you can check in 5 times a year and don’t pay anything but lifetime max benefit is $2 million.

HMO: $250 every time, until you reach $1500 (6 visits), then you don’t pay anything beyond that. Also, no limit on the benefits received.

U OF CHICAGO IS NOT PART OF HMO!! U of C doctors only take PPO plan, so if you choose HMO you need to go somewhere else.

Also, here’s the downside of seeing a doctor at the U of Chicago. When you see a doctor there, the visit is billed as an outpatient service (that’s the way they do it and they have no intention of changing it). This means that instead of the $15 copay, you are billed your annual deductible (up to $250). But beyond the $250, all future visits are 100% covered. This also means that if you had even only a routine exam, you pay whatever it normally costs if you didn’t have insurance (say $160). The next time you see a doctor for any reason, you pay only $80 and you are fully covered for the rest of the year. So if you see a doctor once or twice a year, you end up with your $160-$250 dollar bill instead of $15 you could have paid if only you went to Northwestern hospital. From what I understand, going to U of C only makes sense if you go to the doctor regularly, such as if you are pregnant or seeing a therapist.

Thursday, February 4, 2010

Family Resource Center Grand opening

Wednesday, February 10th
Campus and Student Life
invites you to the Grand Opening!

University of Chicago, Ida Noyes Hall
1212 E. 59th Street
3:30-5:00 pm (4:15 Puppet show)


FRC Grand Opening Event:
The Family Resource Center(FRC) has moved and the grand opening in the new location, Ida Noyes Hall 1212 E. 59th Street, is scheduled for February 10th.

FRC welcomes graduate and professional student families affiliated with the University of Chicago. Their mission is to create a welcoming space where families from the university community can access resources, information, and supportive programming and services. See our website for more info:

Monday, January 25, 2010

5 year rule - Rifat Hasina's Experience

I arrived in the US ten years ago as an immigrant postdoc with a fresh PhD in hand and lofty aspirations in my heart. There was certainty of unsurpassed opportunity of conducting state-of-the-art research at the most prestigious US institutions but I had little practical knowledge regarding prospects after postdoctoral training.

As it turned out - one could actually breeze through four or five years of postdoctoral training without having any plans for the future, and without any institutional guidance regarding the transition. I had joined a University that had neither a PDA nor a PDO and I remained blissfully clueless about my future for the better part of four years.

Things changed once I moved to the University of Chicago. I became aware of the BSD PDA through their career related seminars and postdoc only Socials. I was happy to find out for the first time that there was a group just for us! I began to get clear and directed information for career development at the seminars. It was the most helpful wakeup call I got during my postdoc years but sooner than I expected, the five-year rule of up or out was upon me, and a decision had to be made.

My PI, who had recently been awarded an R01 based on the work that I had done, offered me the staff scientist position of Research Professional Associate (RPA) but declined to consider me for a Research Associate (Assistant Professor) position. It was the most viable option for me at the time and I gladly took it. But I did feel I got caught unprepared at the time of transition. The RPA position is a highly coveted permanent staff position (as long as the PI is funded) and it offers good benefits, plenty of autonomy. What it lacks is two crucial elements, no promotions over years of service and, no opportunity to apply for grants as PI or even as co-PI, the only sure path to becoming an independent scientist. The RPA position can lose its charm when you turn 45 and everyone around you has either moved up or gone into something else, and you start to feel like a glorified super postdoc, reliably chugging along in the lab of your PI.

So after five years as postdoc and two years as staff scientist, I decided, after many conversations with friends, colleagues, mentors, fellow postdocs and career development counselors, to explore my options.

I took classes. I got diplomas. I consulted for a Biotech company. I attended professional development workshops and visited career fairs. There are many avenues open to PhDs – Faculty in academia, staff scientist in Biotech companies, medical writer, consultant, patents specialists and in management – seemingly numerous choices. What I most wanted to do was be a scientist in an academic setting. I preferred not to move outside Chicago because of family ties.

To remain in academia, one of the best options available to me was to apply for a faculty position in a supportive role, such as the RA (Assistant Professor) position. I had published two significant papers during the previous two years, but my PI had not allowed me the option to apply for grants. This lack of independent funding made me less competitive for a tenure-track faculty position. I believe that if I had been a citizen or even a resident alien during the previous years, some of these barriers would not have existed or even been more smoothly overcome.

All the networking advice I’d gotten from the workshops was put to the test. I contacted my professional colleagues and collaborators and requested them to network on my behalf. Fortunately, one of these very people was actually searching for a candidate with background similar to mine to take over the management of his expanding laboratory in addition to conducting leading research. He confirmed the position of the Research Associate (Assistant Professor) would be a faculty position with some limitations. My role would be to support his research interests as well as develop my own goals and projects, essentially splitting my time to meet individual and the group’s interest. I would apply for grants as PI or co-PI and after 3-5 years would be eligible to be promoted to Associate Professor depending on performance and productivity. As the co-director of the lab, I would have additional responsibilities of managing the lab and all employees. Benefits included college tuition, retirement contribution and time off, in addition to health and dental insurance.

I felt this was an excellent opportunity for me to transition into a position with greater responsibility, career building and research opportunities and a sense of personal fulfillment. After 18 months as an RA (Assistant Professor), I am now preparing to apply for NIH funding based on the work I have been doing.