Benefits Glossary

To choose the Columbia benefits that are right for you and your family, use the glossary as a reference to understand basic benefits and insurance terminology. 

How Your Out-of-Pocket Maximum is calculated: 

How Your Out-of-Pocket Maximum is Calculated

Glossary by Alphabet

Annual Benefits Salary – Used to determine employees' medical contributions, Child Care Benefit eligibility, Life Insurance coverage and Long-Term Disability (LTD) coverage amounts. Annual Benefits Salary is calculated as of July 1 each year and is the greater of a) the base salary in effect on July 1; or b) the prior 12 months' gross compensation, plus additional and private practice compensation, to June 30.

Annual Deductible – The amount you pay for Covered Health Services each year before the Plan begins to pay for non-preventive expenses.

Appeal of Claim – If you have a claim for a benefit which is denied in whole or in part, you must receive a written explanation of the reason for the denial. Under ERISA, you have the right to appeal the denial of a claim and have the denial decision reconsidered.

Child Care Benefit – Eligible Officers, Non-Union Support Staff and Postdoctoral Fellows can elect to receive up to a $5,000 contribution ($4,000 for members of Local 100) from Columbia to a Dependent Care FSA. If you elect this benefit during the year because of a Qualified Life Status Change, you will receive a prorated portion of the benefit. 

COBRA – Consolidated Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act. A federal law that may allow you to temporarily keep health coverage after your employment ends, you lose coverage as a dependent of the covered employee or another qualifying event. If you elect COBRA coverage, you pay 100% of the premiums, including the share the employer used to pay, plus a small administrative fee.

Coinsurance – Cost-Sharing between you and the Plan for Eligible Expenses for certain Covered Health Services, where you are required to pay a percentage of the cost. For example, a 90/10 coinsurance plan with a $400 deductible requires you to pay 10% of the covered costs after the Annual Deductible has been met, while the Plan will be responsible for the remaining 90%.

Contribution – The amount you pay toward the cost of medical, vision and prescription drug coverage through pre-tax payroll deductions.

Coinsurance – The “co” of co-insurance means you and the Plan share the cost. Your coinsurance will apply to the out-of-pocket maximum.

Copay / Copayment – The fixed dollar amount you pay directly to the medical service provider or pharmacy at the time of service. Copays do not accumulate toward your deductible but are applied to your in-network out-of-pocket maximum.

Cost of Living Adjustment (COLA) – An adjustment made to income in order to adjust benefits to reflect the effects of inflation.

Cost Sharing – The share of plan costs that you pay out of your own pocket. This generally includes Annual Deductibles, Coinsurance and Copays, but does not include premiums or the cost of services that are not eligible.

Covered Health Services – Health services, including supplies, which are determined by the Plan to be provided for the purpose of preventing, diagnosing or treating sickness, injury, mental illness, substance use disorders or their symptoms. Covered services are listed in the SPD.

Deductible – The amount you pay out-of-pocket before your plan begins to pay for non-preventive services. Your in-network deductible accumulates toward your in-network out-of-pocket maximum.

Eligible Expenses – Charges for covered health services rendered, or supplies furnished by a certified health professional under the Plan. Eligible Expenses may be subject to Cost Sharing and/or annual or lifetime maximums as specified by the terms of the Plan. Eligible Expenses for services rendered by In-Network providers are limited to the network negotiated charge. For Out-of-Network Benefits, Eligible Expenses are limited to 190% of the Medicare MAC.

Evidence of Insurability (LTC, Life and LTD) – Documentation of insurability by an applicant for insurance. Usually this requires completing a form with your medical history.

Exclusion(s) – A health condition or service not eligible for coverage under the healthcare plan.

Explanation of Benefits (EOB) – A statement provided by a health insurer to the plan participant that explains how their claim was paid. The EOB typically includes the date of service, type of service rendered, Eligible Expense, amount paid by the Plan and the balance to be paid by the plan participant. If applicable, it will also provide any reason(s) the service or supply was not covered by the Plan.

Guaranteed Issue – A feature of certain insured benefits that permits you to enroll regardless of health status, age, gender or other factors that might predict the use of the benefit.

Imputed Income – The value of an employer-sponsored benefit or service that is considered by the IRS as compensation and added to an employee's taxable wages in order to properly withhold income and employment taxes from the wages. Examples of Imputed Income include:

  • Educational assistance above the excluded amount
  • Employer contributions for the coverage of eligible dependents

In-Network – Refers to providers or facilities that are part of UHC’s Choice network with which it has negotiated and contracted, to provide a discount for services rendered. Individuals pay less when using an In-Network provider.

Maximum Allowable Charge – How out-of-network services are reimbursed. The Plan indexed its maximum reimbursement rates for services to 190% of Medicare’s maximum allowable charge.

Medically Necessary – Healthcare services or supplies needed to prevent, diagnose or treat an illness, injury, condition, disease or its symptoms, and that meet accepted standards of medicine.

Multi-Source Brand – Prescription drugs that are available in both the brand name and generic form.

Network – The group of physicians, hospitals and other providers contracted with UHC to provide services at lower-priced, negotiated rates. UHC’s Choice network is a national provider network, and does not require a primary care physician designation or referrals to see specialists.

Non-Duplication – A provision in health plans specifying that benefits will not be paid for amounts reimbursed by other plans. This typically applies to a plan participant who is eligible for benefits under more than one plan (e.g., covered under spouse's plan).

Non-Preventive Drugs – Prescription medications that are designed and intended to treat a specific condition. If either a therapeutic class or specific drug is not defined as a Preventive Drug, then it is considered a Non-Preventive Drug.

Open Enrollment – The annual period in which employees can select from a choice of benefits programs with an effective date of January 1 of the following year.

Out-Of-Network Benefits – Covered Health Services provided by non-network providers. Individuals usually are responsible for additional Out-of-Pocket Costs if they use an out-of-network provider. Eligible Expenses are determined in accordance with the Claims Administrator’s reimbursement policy. For more information, contact UHC at 800-232-9357.


Out-of-Pocket Costs – Expenses for medical services that are not reimbursed by the Plan. Out-of-Pocket Costs include Annual Deductibles, Coinsurance, and Copays for Covered Health Services, costs above the Eligible Expense and costs for services that are not covered under the Plan.

Out-of-Pocket (OOP) Maximum – The most you could pay out-of-pocket each year (not including your contributions) for covered medical services and prescriptions. Once you reach your in-network out-of-pocket maximum, the Plan will pay 100% of remaining in-network covered expenses for the year.

Precertification – The process of contacting UHC before certain services are provided, to determine if they will be covered by your insurance Note: If you go out-of-network, it is your responsibility to obtain precertification.

Pre-Tax Contribution – A contribution which is made before federal and/or state taxes are withheld.

Preventive Care – Medical care that focuses on health maintenance, such as annual physicals, certain screening tests and child immunization programs.

Preventive Drugs – Prescription medications that are designed to prevent individuals from developing a health condition.

Qualified Life Status Change – A change to benefits eligibility that is recognized by the IRS and allows an employee to make a change to certain benefits during the calendar year. After the initial enrollment as a new hire, or after annual Benefits Open Enrollment, employees are only able to change benefits for the remainder of the calendar year if they experience a Qualified Life Status Change.

Self-Insured Plan – Columbia University’s medical and prescription benefits are "self-insured." Columbia University does not pay "premiums" to each of the insurance carriers. The University pays employee healthcare claims, plus an administrative fee to UHC.

Single-Source Brand – Drugs that do not have a generic equivalent.

Specialty Medication – Drugs that require special handling, administration or monitoring.

SmartSelect – A modeling tool that can help you determine which healthcare benefits plan makes the most sense for you and your family. You can model the potential costs of your medical plan under different scenarios, and including a model based on your past calendar year's healthcare claims information. 

Summary Plan Description (SPD) – A document that explains the fundamental features of an employer’s employee benefits plan, including eligibility requirements and the schedule of benefits.

University Network ID (UNI) – Your UNI, usually consisting of your initials plus an arbitrary number, is the key to accessing computer services and electronic resources at Columbia. You will use it to gain access to benefits information.

Vesting – A permanent right of ownership. You are always 100% vested in your Voluntary Retirement Savings Plan contributions.

VRSP – Voluntary Retirement Savings Program is a defined contribution 403(b) plan that lets you contribute from 1% to 80% of your eligible pay on a pre-tax and/or Roth basis, in half percentages, through convenient payroll contributions.


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