Discover Your Benefits

Here's what you need to know - Discover Your Benefits

Columbia University offers a comprehensive benefits package to support your everyday needs and life events. You might be surprised to learn how many benefits plans and resources the University provides to you and your family everyday—as well as when the unexpected happens.

This month we’re thinking about mental health, a term including a variety of emotional, psychological and social well-being conditions that range in severity. Nearly 20 million adults in the U.S. receive mental health treatment each year. If you are one of them, take advantage of the support and treatment options included in your Columbia benefits. 

Mental Health and Your Benefits

According to the World Health Organization, "Health is a state of complete physical, mental and social well-being and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity." Mental health encompasses our emotional, behavioral and psychological well-being—how we feel, act and think. It determines how we handle stress, make choices and contribute to our family and community.

The stigma of mental health conditions, also called mental illness, has reduced but is still prevalent. False beliefs about mental health can cause challenges, preventing some people from seeking help. Most people who live with mental illness have, at some point, been blamed—or blame themselves—for their condition. Mental health conditions are no one's fault. And, people can usually be successfully treated.

There are many stressors that can affect mental and emotional well-being, and manifest to conditions that can affect thinking, mood and behavior. Experiencing one or more of the following feelings or behaviors may be reason to seek professional support:

  • Having low or no energy, or unexplained aches and pains
  • Smoking, drinking, using drugs or eating more than usual
  • Pulling away from people and usual activities
  • Experiencing severe mood swings
  • Thinking of harming yourself or others
  • Inability to perform daily tasks like taking care of your kids or getting to work or school

Your health is as much about your mental and emotional well-being as it is about your heart and your bones. Social connections, laughter, pets, spirituality and managing your work/life can boost mental health and general wellness.

Your benefits include counseling and substance abuse recovery services, and can help you effectively deal with a range of situations, such as:

  • Anxiety and depression
  • Coping with grief and loss
  • Domestic violence
  • Eating disorders
  • Relationship problems  

If you have concerns about your mental health or the mental health of your loved one, it may be helpful to talk to someone, such as your physician. It can be scary to reach out, but it’s often the first step to healing and recovery.

A wealth of free services and resources are available through the University to support you. Mental and behavioral health services are also covered by your medical plan.

For all employees:

Employee Assistance Program (EAP)

Access counseling, life coaching and more through our EAP (via Humana), a free, confidential service available to employees and their household members.

  • Free, confidential 24/7 short-term counseling (by phone) through Columbia’s Employee Assistance Program: 888-673-1153.
  • LifeCoach, a free, personalized coaching experience available to you by phone. To get started, call 855-290-2655.
  • Apps available at discounted rates through the EAP (and also from the App Store or Google Play):
    • Talkspace: Confidential and secure mental health support. Users can send text, video and audio messages to dedicated therapists from anywhere, at any time.
    • Stop, Breathe & Think: Meditation and mindfulness programming to tackle life’s ups and downs.
    • Five-Minute Journal: Simple, directed journaling exercises to help users focus on the good in their lives.
Office of Work/Life

The Office of Work/Life can help you manage your work and family life through the following services and programs:

Go to to learn more.

University policies to support your overall well-being
Other resources
  • Mental Health America: Dedicated to helping all Americans achieve wellness by living mentally healthier lives.
  • Learn about the causes, symptoms and how to cope with mental health, and how to get you or your loved one help.

For employees and family members enrolled in University medical plans:

To find an in-network provider nearby, go to This page includes the list of Columbia Doctors who provide in-network services to University employees.

ColumbiaDoctors Midtown, Department of Psychiatry

Beginning June 1, employees may utilize the Columbia Day Program as an in-network benefit. This intensive group-therapy program—designed for people suffering from a variety of conditions, such as anxiety, depression, eating disorders and substance abuse—can assist with identifying symptoms and patterns of behavior, and decrease those symptoms using cognitive and behavioral skills.

Contact ColumbiaDoctors at 212-326-8441 for more information.

UHC Live and Work Well

This site provides confidential help and resources when coping with personal challenges--such as divorce, obesity and health issues, and how to cope with anxiety, stress and depression. You can also access online resources to help reach your health goals, such as eating right or reducing stress and even get guidance from a coach via phone, secure email or live chat. Log in to and click “Coverage & Benefits.” Then, select “Mental Health” and “Mental Health and Substance Abuse benefit highlights” to learn more.

More Benefits to Discover

Some prescriptions can be ordered online and delivered to your home or office. Read on to find out how your Columbia benefits can save you time and money in addition to supporting your health.

Prescription Drug Coverage

If you enroll in a Columbia University medical plan, you have prescription drug coverage through OptumRx. Your UHC ID card includes both medical and prescription drug plan information.

You can buy prescriptions at any pharmacy you wish, but you will likely pay more if you go outside the OptumRx network. The cost of prescriptions depends on a number of factors, including the medical plan in which you are enrolled and whether a drug is generic, single-source or multi-source. To find out if your pharmacy is in the network, log in to and choose “MANAGE YOUR PRESCRIPTIONS” then “GO TO OPTUMRX.”

When filling a prescription for a medication that you’ll take one time or short-term, using a local pharmacy (Duane Reade, CVS, Walgreens, Walmart, Costco, etc.) is the way to go.

Prescription Drug Delivery

How It Works

If you take long-term or maintenance medication —such as for the ongoing treatment of diabetes, asthma, high blood pressure, depression or other behavioral health conditions—using OptumRx’s mail-order program will cost you less for most drugs.

Plus, mail-order offers the convenience of free delivery to your home or work, so you won’t need to make a trip to the pharmacy during bad weather or carve out time on a busy day.

Although you are not required to use mail-order, doing so has several advantages in addition to cost savings:

Safety and quality

  • Prescriptions filled by OptumRx undergo as many as 16 quality checks before they’re sent to you.
  • Whether you fill a prescription at a local store or via mail order, a licensed pharmacist physically checks every prescription. (It’s the law.)

Pharmacists on call

  • Get answers to your questions. Call 800-232-9357 to speak with a pharmacist day or night, 24/7.

Easy tracking

  • The website makes it easy to track your prescription status, transfer current prescriptions to mail-order, compare drug costs, download forms and more.
  • You can also sign up to receive texts and emails to remind you to take your medication and order refills.

Medication Delivered to Your Door – How to Enroll

To enroll in the mail-order program, use one of the following options:

Online registration: Log in to; select “MANAGE YOUR PRESCRIPTIONS” then “GO TO OPTUMRX;” register and follow the step-by-step instructions. Manage your medication(s) online, including filling new prescriptions and transferring other prescriptions to home delivery. You can set up text message reminders to help manage your medication schedule. Be sure to have your UHC ID card and medication bottles on hand.

Telephone: Call 800-232-9357 on the back of your UHC ID card to speak with a customer service representative. It’s helpful to have both your UHC ID card and most recent prescription bottle to help answer questions. The representative can contact your doctor directly if you need a new prescription.

Regular mail: Ask your doctor for a new prescription for up to a three-month supply, plus refills for up to one year. Then go to and download the new prescription order form. Mail it to the address provided on the bottom of the form.

Fax/ePrescribe: Ask your doctor to call 1-800-791-7658 for instructions on how to fax your prescription directly to OptumRx. Or your doctor can send an electronic prescription to OptumRx.

To transfer an existing prescription, call OptumRx at the number on the back of your UHC ID card. Have your card and prescription bottle on hand for the call.

Plan Ahead

It can take up to 2 weeks to receive your first prescription through mail order. Refills typically take one week. 

For more information

Learn more about the Columbia University Prescription Drug plan: Go to the Health & Welfare Benefits page and choose the tab that corresponds to your employment group—then select “Prescription Drug.”

Self-care: What it is, why it’s important and how your Columbia Benefits can help you take care of yourself.  

Where do you fall on your to-do list?

Taking care of yourself is key to balancing the many moving parts of your life. Adding self-care to your to-do list and making it a priority can help you manage the other priorities in your life. That may seem backwards but it’s true. Self-care refuels you and helps you stay healthy so that you can be your best at home, at work and at play.

Caring for yourself may include coping with stress, nurturing your emotional well-being, getting better sleep, managing your weight and paying attention to nutrition. Self-care is as unique as you are.

Go to our well-being page for resources on nurturing your own well-being, including Work/Life programs, Physical Fitness and the Employee Assistance Program (where you can find Life Coaches and answers to almost everything!).

Caregivers Week

Join the Office of Work/Life the week of February 11 for their first dedicated CAREGIVERS WEEK—with workshops on Long-Distance Elder Caregiving; Finding Care for Young Children; two sessions on Emotional Intelligence: Improving Your Professional and Personal Life; and a Valentine’s Day focus on Taking Care of Yourself.

Visit the Work/Life website to learn more about support for caring for yourself and others, including breastfeeding support, back-up care, school and child care search, wellness initiatives and more.

Wellness coaching

You’ve got a helping hand.

Like other important journeys, the path to well-being can be easier when you have a partner. Your Columbia benefits include free access to professional, experienced wellness coaches for help with sleep problems, stress, quitting smoking, exercise planning and much more. Talk to a wellness coach one-on-one, or get started on your own online. Learn more about the different types of support available through your Columbia benefits.

February is Heart Health Month

Don’t wait for doctor’s orders: a healthy heart should be a priority regardless of your age. According to the CDC, heart disease is the leading cause of death in the U.S. for both women and men. February is Heart Health Month, an ideal time to consider these seven steps to better heart health.

Retirement Savings Program

Over 60% of employees say their employer retirement plan is their primary means of saving for retirement. Columbia University provides you with the opportunity to save for the future through a retirement savings program that includes 1) Voluntary Retirement Savings Plan (VRSP); and 2) University Retirement Plan.

Resolve to make the most of your retirement benefits.

Here’s how:  

  1. Contribute to the VRSP via payroll deductions. If you’re not contributing, log in to CUBES, choose a contribution amount and make pre-tax and/or Roth elections. If you’re already contributing, look at your payroll statement to see how much you’re saving and think about increasing your contributions.

  2. Model your plan contributions. Use the retirement calculator in CUBES to see how different election percentages affect your paycheck contributions.

Know your limits! The IRS limits how much you are able to contribute each year. It is your responsibility to ensure your annual contributions across all pre-tax and after-tax retirement plans are under the limit.

See advice from the pros

To learn more about the retirement benefits the University provides, and the resources that can help you develop a sound savings strategy, visit the Retirement Savings & Financial Planning page.

Plan. Model. Learn.

If caring for family members and loved ones is part of your daily routine, you know the importance of having access to reliable, qualified and cost-effective resources. Your benefits can help with child, adult and elder care.

Experts on Call

Employees who are eligible for Columbia medical coverage have 24/7 access to a free and confidential Employee Assistance Program (EAP), provided through Humana. Through the EAP, you can:

  • Receive short-term counseling on managing adult/elder care, coping with stress, avoiding burnout and more.
  • Talk with a specialist who will research care options based on your situation and provide you with feedback within three business days.
  • Obtain customized information and referrals to elder and adult care services in your or your loved one’s community.
  • Explore elder care options such as assisted living facilities and in-home care.
  • Learn about dementia, health care directives and caring from a distance.

To reach an EAP specialist, call 1-888-673-1153 (TTY: 711).

You can also find helpful information, guidance and resources on the Columbia-specific Humana website

  • If prompted, log in (Username: Columbia; Password: eap).
  • Hover mouse over “What’s on your mind” tab for a list of topics, such as Emergencies, Parenting and Tools.  
Talk About It

Many of us may spend more years caring for elderly parents than raising children. Involve your parents in planning for their future care while they remain able to participate in the discussion.

Health Advocate

Employees who are eligible for Columbia life insurance have access to Health Advocate, a resource to help you, your spouse, dependent children, parents and parents-in-law:

  • Find the right doctors, hospitals and other health care providers
  • Coordinate care and schedule follow-up visits, facilitate second opinions, transfer X-rays and medical records
  • Work with insurance companies to clarify benefits and negotiate billing
  • Locate elder care services that fall outside of traditional healthcare coverage, including assisted living and adult day care

For more information, go to the Columbia Health Advocate page or phone them directly at 866-799-2725.

Back-Up Plans Available

Your sitter’s planning a vacation. An out-of-state family member falls ill. Your home health worker switches jobs. When the unexpected occurs and you need immediate access to child- or adult-caregiver resources, use Columbia’s Back-Up Care Advantage Program, provided by Bright Horizons.

As an employee of Columbia, you have access to a variety of resources and support, including:

  • Babysitters, nannies and housekeepers
  • Elder care
  • Center-based child care

You can access this service by calling 1-877-BH-CARES (242-2737) or on the Bright Horizons Back-Up Care webpage. Registration in advance is recommended (Username: columbia; Password: backupcare [case sensitive]).  

Requests for care can be made 30 days to 24 hours in advance (availability of caregivers is not guaranteed). Each fiscal year, Columbia provides you with access to 150 hours of back-up care for children and adults and covers most of the cost.

For more information, including copays for services, visit Columbia's Office of Work/Life’s Back-Up Care page.

Columbia’s Office of Work/Life

Employees may receive information and services from Columbia’s Office of Work/Life, including the School and Child Care Search, the pre-K and Kindergarten Newsletter and the Back-Up Care program. Visit the Work/Life website for more details, programs and events.

Leave of Absence

In your role as caregiver you may be eligible for a paid or unpaid leave of absence from work. For assistance, contact the CUHR Leave Management Office at

Are you doing enough?

Visit the Preventive Care page of the UnitedHealthcare (UHC) website and generate a checklist of preventive services you may consider based on your age and gender. These may include annual wellness exams, flu shots, colorectal screenings, breast cancer screenings, Hepatitis C screenings and more. Discuss this list with your doctor, and then call UHC to find out which services are covered at 100% if you use in-network providers. You can also find coverage information in the Summary Plan Descriptions (SPDs).

It starts with your Primary Care Physician

Without a Primary Care Physician (PCP), your ongoing medical care may become less consistent, efficient and personal. A PCP will get to know you and maintain your health history. They’re also your first line of defense in prevention and your teammate in helping to manage a chronic condition. If you don’t have a primary care doctor, find one within the UHC network by using UHC’s directory.

You haven’t missed your shot!

Ask your doctor about catch-up immunizations that you may have missed, or others that require adult boosters. Your Columbia benefits cover preventive vaccines.

Your preventive health to-do list

  • Get a preventive health screening to check important physical characteristics such as your blood pressure, cholesterol and body mass index
  • Check that you and your family are up to date on vaccinations
  • Don’t ignore your teeth – dental hygiene is connected to the health of the rest of your body
  • Get an annual flu shot, free through Columbia Health

What Preventive Health Screenings May be Best to Consider:

  • Am I at risk for heart disease?
  • What screening tests make sense for me?
  • Should I consider genetic testing to find out risk factors?


Connect with the Employee Assistance Program (EAP)

Call an EAP specialist 24/7 at 1-888-673-1153 (TTY: 711) who will help you with… 

  • Confidential counseling. Don’t suffer in silence. Receive up to three free counseling sessions over the phone from licensed Master’s or Ph.D.-level mental health and substance abuse professionals for stress, anxiety, relationships and other issues.
  • Work-Life Balance. Consider asking the EAP for research and referrals for child care, adult/elder care, travel, pet care, movers, restaurants and more.
  • Identity protection. The EAP offers an ID Theft Emergency Response kit, as well as a 60-minute consultation with an expert fraud resolution specialist who can help you reclaim your identity, dispute fraudulent activity and take steps to restore your credit.
  • Financial and legal services. Beginning January 1, 2019, take advantage of free 30-minute consultations with attorneys, CPAs, mediators and financial counselors. If you decide to use their services after the initial call, you’ll get a 25% discount.*

    *Legal services provided by Humana, the University's EAP provider.

Speak with a LifeCoach at 1-855-290-2655 for help achieving work-life balance, managing your finances, adopting healthy habits, getting organized and more. Unlimited coaching sessions are available via phone, email or online chat. Coaches are available for scheduled appointments Monday through Friday, from 8:00 8:00 p.m.

EAP website: View a wide range of information on topics such as low-maintenance investing, relaxation techniques, bicycle safety, strengthening family bonds, Empty Nest Syndrome and pet health. You will need to log in with:

Username: columbia
Password: eap

What could you achieve if you had a LifeCoach?

Find out! Reach a LifeCoach at 1-855-290-2655 to tackle your personal and professional goals. 


Your Columbia Benefits include discounts on healthcare, entertainment, everyday expenses and more.


To assist and support your ongoing wellbeing, if you are enrolled in the Aetna dental plan, Columbia University provides wellness resources, including discounts on:

  • Blood pressure monitors and certain exercise and yoga equipment
  • Personal trainers, health coaches and weight management programs
  • Gym memberships, nutrition counseling, massage and other therapies
  • Vitamins and other nutritional supplements
  • Designer eyeglass frames, prescription/non-prescription sunglasses, non-disposable contact lenses and Lasik laser eye surgery

Find more information on discounts provided through the Aetna Dental plan through the secure member website at

You can also check out the Wellness tab on the Columbia Office of Work/Life website for more discounts relating to gym memberships and nutrition.

Travel and Entertainment

Looking for a weekend getaway, day trip or great entertainment nearby? Discounts on cultural events, hotel rooms and car rentals can be found on the Columbia University Discounts webpage. Use the code CUMC for discounts through Tickets at Work.  

Consider getting a New York Public Library card to gain free admission into museums in and around New York. Columbia University Libraries offer free NYPL on-site library card registration in Butler Library every fall, but you can also get one at the Morningside NYPL branch at Broadway and 114th Street.

Did you know you can get help with pre-trip reminders as well as advice and emergency support while you’re traveling? Learn more about Cigna Secure Travel.


No matter what type of wheels get you to and from work, Columbia has discounts to ease the expense of commuting. Check the Columbia Transportation webpage for details or call 1-212-854-3382.

Everyday Expenses

Wish you could shave a bit off your monthly cable and telephone bills? AT&T, Verizon, Sprint and T-Mobile all offer discounts and special offers to Columbia employees. Learn more on the Columbia Discounts webpage.


Kick off your summer with a…skin check.

Skin cancer is the most common type of cancer in the U.S.  A screening by a dermatologist can help spot issues early, preventing this disease or catching it at an early stage.

Your dermatologist visit will either be covered with a copay if you’re in a Choice Plus plan, or it will count toward your annual deductible and then covered with coinsurance if you are in the High Deductible Health Plan (HDHP).

Let your doctor know if you notice anything out of the ordinary, such as:

  • Spots or moles that change, itch or bleed
  • New spots or moles

Also make your doctor aware of:

  • Past severe sunburns, especially during childhood
  • A personal or family history of skin cancer
  • Artificial sunlight exposure, such as use of tanning beds

More than Skin Deep

Skin cancer that is recognized and treated early is often curable. Left untreated, it can spread to other parts of the body and become more serious and difficult to treat.

Not all sunscreens are created equal.

When you reach for sunscreen, look for:

  • SPF 15 or higher
  • Avobenzone, zinc oxide and/or titanium dioxide
  • Water resistance
  • Broad-spectrum coverage (blocks ultraviolet A and B rays)

In general, sunscreens with at least SPF 30 are reimbursable through a Healthcare Flexible Spending Account (FSA) or Health Savings Account (HSA). For specifics, go to or call 1-800-232-9357. For information on sunscreen ratings, check out the Environmental Working Group (EWG)’s Sunscreen Guide.

QUICK TIP: Sunscreen expires!

Toss anything you’ve had for over 2 years.

Are your allergies in bloom?

  • Don’t let allergies spoil your summer. See a doctor to get tested for your triggers. Your Columbia medical plan covers allergy testing
  • Consider allergen-proof pillows; the difference in cost between regular and allergen-proof pillows can be reimbursed from a Healthcare FSA or HSA when your doctor deems them medically necessary.
  • Wear oversized sunglasses to keep pollen out of your eyes on windy days. The cost of prescription sunglasses can be paid using an HSA or FSA.
  • Plan activities and exercise past sundown when pollen counts are lower

School's Out:

Summer presents new schedules and routines. If your children have allergies, be sure they have access to their medications at camp, on vacation and while traveling.

If you can't take the heat

…you may be suffering from heat exhaustion. Symptoms can include muscle cramps, dizziness, headache, confusion, excessive thirst and a weak, rapid pulse.

To avoid overheating when outdoors, wear light colors and lightweight clothing, take breaks in the shade and make sure you stay hydrated—especially if you are engaged in sports or other physical activities.  

If you or someone else appears to have heat exhaustion, spray yourself or them with cool water and seek out an air-conditioned space. If there’s no improvement within an hour, call 911 and seek emergency medical treatment.

Hot Tip for Keeping Cool

It takes 7 to 10 days for your body to adapt to a change in temperature. Don’t save your hardest workout for the hottest day of summer!

Sufficient sleep is a known factor in good health and wellbeing. Yet, according to a study by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), more than one-third of American adults are not getting enough sleep on a regular basis. Plus, some say sleep quality has more impact on your overall well-being than sleep quantity. Read on to find out how your Columbia benefits can help you improve both.

You’re tired, but falling and staying asleep is a challenge

Solution: More physical activity throughout the day 

Exercising can reduce stress and strengthen circadian rhythms, which drive your internal clock. By exercising, you can increase the time you spend in deep sleep, the physically restorative sleep phase.

Take a walk around the block; start walking uphill; build up to a run. If you don’t exercise regularly, getting started can be as challenging as any lifestyle change. Finding help, however, is easy. Your Columbia benefits include one-on-one wellness coaching and self-guided tools. And did you know about the discounted gym memberships offered through the University’s Office of Work/Life?

Tip: Avoid stimulants like smoking, caffeine or large meals in the hours leading up to bedtime.

Not convinced? Oregon State University researchers found that 150 minutes—just 2 ½ hours—of physical activity per week provide a 65% improvement in sleep quality.

Your mind races as you lay awake at night

Solution: Relieve Stress

If your to-do list keeps you up at night, you’re not alone. One in four Americans develops insomnia each year and stress is one of the leading causes.

If exercise (see You're Tired, above) isn’t doing the trick, try a hot shower, burn a scented candle (lavender is known to soothe) and consider your caffeine intake (stimulants can increase anxiety). Your Columbia benefits include resources to help with stress reduction, which can contribute to a better night’s sleep.

*Username: Columbia; Password: eap

Reminder: You can reach out to someone at the Employee Assistance Program at any time. Not just when things get too busy, stressful or overwhelming. If everyday issues are keeping you up at night, consider the free, short-term therapy option: Three sessions per topic, with a licensed professional offering confidential guidance and counseling.

Quick tips for catching more ZZZs

  • Make sleep a priority
  • Design your bedroom in a way that helps you sleep
  • Give your brain a break from phone, computer and TV screens before bedtime
  • Find your magic number: Go to bed 15 minutes earlier each night until you wake up feeling refreshed, then stick with that bedtime

One more stat: More than 90% of Americans attribute their mattress to a good or bad night’s sleep—evaluate yours.

Go to the Office of Work-Life's Sleep Health page for more.