Benefits Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) - Support Staff

FAQs Contents:

Annual Benefits Salary

Q. What is my Annual Benefits Salary?
A. Annual Benefits Salary is the greater of a) the base salary in effect on each July 1; or b) the prior 12 months’ gross compensation, to June 30. It is calculated as of July 1 each year and goes into effect the following January 1. Your Annual Benefits Salary is used to determine your Life Insurance coverage.

Dependent Eligibility Verification

Q. I want to enroll my spouse/eligible same-sex domestic partner and/or children under my health coverage. How do I submit verification of their eligibility?
A. Go to and click on the CUBES logo. Then log in with your uni and password. Follow instructions for verifying your dependent. The system will take you To the “Dependent Verification “page and you can upload your documentation.

You can also provide documentation by sending a secure fax to 844-301-7225.

Employee Assistance Plan (EAP)

Q. Who is eligible for benefits under the EAP?
A. As a Part-time or Full-time member of Columbia University's Support Staff, you and anyone living in your household is eligible for EAP benefits. There is no requirement that you or a member of your household participate or be eligible for the University’s medical plans.

Q. What benefits are available under the EAP, in addition to the initial assessment and three confidential EAP counseling sessions per subject?
A. The EAP, provided by Humana, provides you or household members with concierge services, including everything from providing help finding a dog walker, picking up dry cleaning, obtaining theatre tickets, travel planning—and more. In addition, the EAP now includes legal services. Learn more at

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Imputed Income

Q. What is Imputed Income?
A. Imputed income is taxable income that reflects the value of a benefit you receive. An example is when you are taxed on the imputed value of same-sex domestic partner benefits—which occurs when you enroll your same-sex domestic partner in a Columbia medical plan. This value is reflected on your W-2 as imputed income, which is subject to taxes.


Medical: General

Q. How can I find out whether my current providers participate in the UnitedHealthcare (UHC) network?

A. You can review UHC’s network at and check under “Find a Doctor/Hospital” to see if your physician is included in the UHC provider network. By scrolling down, you can also view a listing of Columbia Doctors who provide in-network healthcare services via UHC to Columbia’s faculty and staff as well as their dependents under “Columbia University Medical Providers” or “Columbia University Behavioral Health Providers." This is the one place where you can review the Columbia Doctors who provide in-network healthcare services via UHC.

Q. Do I have to enroll in UHC or will my current coverage automatically roll over for 2019?
A. If you are currently enrolled in medical coverage through Columbia University, your coverage will automatically roll over for 2019. If you are not currently enrolled in medical coverage through Columbia, you must enroll for 2019.
Q. Are there any changes in the medical plans that are offered in 2019?
A.  Yes. Non-Union Support Staff ‘s Choice Plus 100 Plan will now have an In-network $200 deductible for 2019, as well as increases in the out of pocket limits for both In and Out of network.


Changes in Medical Plans
 In-Network DeductibleCoinsurance After Deductible is MetIn-Network Out-of-Pocket Maximum

UHC Choice Plus 80 Plan

$400 per person80%$3,000 individual; $6,000 family

UHC Choice Plus 90 Plan

$200 per person90%$2,500 individual; $5,000 family

UHC Choice In-Network Plan

N/ACopays$3,500 individual; $7,000 family

UHC Choice Plus 100 Plan

$200 per personCopays$4,750 individual; $9,500 family

Q. How do I learn more about Virtual Visits?
A. Virtual Visits allow online access to physician 24/7 through your mobile phone, tablet or computer. You can speak with a physician in real-time to obtain a diagnosis or a prescription drug, if necessary. Go to and log in with your username and password. If you have not set up a username and password, you must do so before getting started. Once you are registered, choose a virtual provider group. You will then be moved into the virtual waiting room. During your visit, you will be able to see and speak with a U.S. Board-Certified physician about your health concerns. For more information go to

Q. What are the Women's Health Programs available for all the UHC Medical Plans?
A. There are several different resources and services that make up the Women's Health Programs:

  • The Maternity Support Program helps ensure you and your baby receive the best care from pregnancy through the first few months of your baby’s life. 
  • The Reproductive Resource Service can help if you are one of millions dealing with infertility issues.  A team of specialized nurse consultants can work with you throughout the treatment process.
  • Neonatal Resource Service can help if your baby is born preterm or with a serious health problem. A dedicated team of nurse managers and social workers as well as other resources are available to assist you and your baby.

Q. Will I get a new UHC ID card for 2019?
A. No. You will not get a new ID card unless you change medical plans for 2019. Your current ID card can be used for Medical, Prescription Drug (OptumRx) and Vision in 2019. This card should be used at your physician's office and pharmacy in 2019 to identify yourself as a UnitedHealthcare and OptumRx participant. 

Q. I need help finding a UHC network provider. Who can help me?
A. Contact UHC at 1-800-232-9357 or search for in-network providers at This is the one place where you can also find Columbia Doctors that participate in the Columbia UHC network.

Q. What is the difference between preventive and diagnostic services?
A. Preventive care includes immunizations, lab tests, screenings and other services intended to prevent illness or detect problems before you notice symptoms. Diagnostic medical care involves treating or diagnosing a problem you are having by monitoring existing problems, checking out new symptoms or following up on abnormal test results. Examples of diagnostic medical care include a Mammogram to follow up after the deduction of a breast lump or a Colonoscopy to evaluate rectal bleeding.

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Medical: In-Network Coverage

Q. How do I find a Columbia physician who is in the network of my Columbia University medical plan?

A. You can visit the ColumbiaDoctors website at Before you decide to use a ColumbiaDoctors physician, call the physician's office, identify yourself as a Columbia University employee, and ask if the physician accepts Columbia University "in-network" medical insurance.

Q. How do I know if my provider stops participating in the network?
A. It is the provider's responsibility to notify you if he/she leaves the network. When you see your physician, especially if it's infrequently, check with his/her office to make sure that they are still participating in your network.

Q. Is a colonoscopy considered preventive care in-network?
A. Yes. Colonoscopies are considered preventive, provided the physician bills for the procedure as a preventive screening and it falls within the preventive guidelines (usually associated with an age). Eligible expenses will be reimbursed at 100% with no deductible. For further details, please see the Summary Plan Description (SPD).

Q. How are in-network outpatient lab and radiology charges covered under the UHC Choice Plus 80 and 90 Plans?
A. In general, under the Choice Plus 80 and 90 plans, if you receive a lab or radiology service, the 80% or 90% coinsurance will apply after you meet the $400 or $200 deductible. Under the Choice Plus 100 plan and the Choice In-Network plan, if you receive the lab or radiology service in a hospital, you will be billed a $150 copay. Alternatively, if you use a free-standing facility outside of the hospital, you will be covered at 100%. Professional Services are subject to the $200 copay in the Choice Plus 100 Plan. It is important to note that there is no copay if you use certain designated New York-Presbyterian (NYP) Hospital  locations for hospital-based outpatient laboratory and radiology services. Please see the list of locations (PDF).

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Medical: Out-of-Network Coverage (Choice Plus 80, 90 and 100 Plans)

Q. What is the Medicare Maximum Allowable Charge (MAC)?
A. Under the Columbia University medical plans, out-of-network reimbursement for covered medical services in all plans is indexed to 190% of the Medicare Maximum Allowable Charge (MAC). For examples of how this works and a list of charges, see the Medicare MAC information sheet (PDF). Out-of- network outpatient Mental Health or Substance Abuse counseling and programs are covered at 70% of 190% of the Medicare MAC.

Q. Do I or my covered dependents need to obtain preauthorization for out-of-network outpatient behavioral health counseling?
A. No. If you see a provider who does not participate in your medical plan's network, you and your covered dependents will no longer need to obtain preauthorization for outpatient Mental Health or Substance Abuse counseling services. However, if you or a covered dependent needs inpatient care or outpatient programs, you are still responsible for obtaining preauthorization. As a reminder, all treatment must be considered medically necessary in order to be reimbursed by your medical plan.


Medical: Annual Deductibles, Coinsurance and Out-of-Pocket Maximum

Q. Is there a dollar limit on how much I pay out of pocket in the medical plans?
A. Yes, once you reach the in-network out-of-pocket maximum, the plan pays 100% of in-network covered expenses.



Annual Out-of-Pocket Maximum
PlanIn-Network Annual
Out-of-Pocket Maximum
UHC Choice Plus 80 Plan$3,000 individual; $6,000 family
UHC Choice Plus 90 Plan$2,500 individual; $5,000 family
UHC Choice Plus 100 Plan$4,750 individual; $9,500 family


Q. Do copays accumulate toward the out-of-pocket maxiumum?
A. If you participate in any of the UnitedHealthcare medical plans, your copays will accumulate toward the annual in-network out-of-pocket maximum. In the Choice Plus 80, 90 and 100 plan, the out-of-network deductible also applies to your annual in- and out-of-pocket maximum. Prescription drug copays also count toward the medical plans' in-network out-of-pocket maximums.

Q. Do out-of-network covered charges accumulate towards both the in-network and out-of-network out-of-pocket maximum?
A. In the Choice Plus 80, 90 and 100 plans, the member's out-of-network coinsurance amount accumulates towards both the in-network and out-of-network out-of-pocket maximums. For out-of-network providers, Eligible Expenses are limited to 190% of the Medicare Maximum Allowable Charge.

Q. Where can I go if I have additional questions?
A. Contact the Columbia Benefits Service Center by emailing or call 212-851-7000 between the hours of 9 a.m. and 4 p.m.


Medical: Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (ACA)

Q: What is the Cadillac Tax that begins in 2020?
A: The ACA applies a 40% tax on employers who provide benefits to employees that exceed certain costs. Benefits subject to the cadillac tax include all employer-sponsored medical coverage, premiums, flexible spending accounts, health reimbursement accounts and health savings accounts. The employer pays the tax to the Internal Revenue Service. Beginning in 2020, healthcare reform limits benefits costs up to $10,200 for single person coverage and $27,500 for other coverage, including family coverage. These amounts will be updated and indexed to inflation before the tax takes effect in 2020.

Q: What is the Employee Notice of Coverage Options, also known as the Employee Notice of the Exchange?
A: All employers subject to the Fair Labor Standards Act (which includes most employers) are required to notify all employees by October 1, 2013 of availability of the new Health Insurance Marketplace (also known as the Exchange) to purchase health insurance.

Q: What is an Exchange?
A: As of January 1, 2014, the law requires a new Health Insurance Marketplace, also known as a Health Insurance Exchange, be established in every state. The Health Insurance Exchange is a new way for individuals and small businesses to purchase health insurance that is run by state, federal or combined governments. Exchanges offer individuals standard health plans at five levels of coverage ranging from 60% to 100% of covered costs: bronze – at least 60%; silver – at least 70%; gold – at least 80%, platinum – at least 90%; and catastrophic –100%. This program will help make health insurance more affordable for those receiving a Federal Premium Subsidy (financial assistance).

Q: What is a Marketplace?
A: The ACA has a provision which requires the establishment of a Health Insurance Exchange in every state beginning January 1, 2014. In the spring of 2013, the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) started calling this program the Health Insurance Marketplace. To access the Health Insurance Marketplace, individuals living:

Q: How can the minimum essential coverage provisions be satisfied?
A: Individuals satisfy the minimum essential coverage requirement with one of the following:

  • Eligible employer-sponsored coverage
  • Individual health plan
  • Grandfathered health plan
  • Medicare part A
  • Medicaid
  • Children's Health Insurance Program
  • TRICARE (military health system)
  • Veterans Affairs
  • Other coverage as may be designated by the Department of Health and Human Services
  • Coverage purchased through a state insurance exchange or the federal exchange

Q: What are the ACA rules related to W-2 reporting of the value of employer-sponsored health coverage?
A: Starting with the 2012 tax year, the ACA required employers who distribute 250 or more Form W-2s for the tax year to include the value of applicable employer-sponsored coverage on each employee's Form W-2. This is not considered taxable income and is for information purposes only.

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Prescription Drugs

Q. Who is the prescription drug vendor?             

A. OptumRx is the prescription drug vendor. For more information on prescription drug benefits, go to

Q. What is the difference between generic, single-source and multi-source prescription drugs?             
A. Each of the below categories requires different copays. More information is available in the Benefits Highlights.

  • Generic – A generic drug is generally comparable to the brand-name drug in dosage, strength, and intended use. Generic drugs typically cost less than brand name drugs.
  • Single-Source – Single-source drugs are those brand-name drugs that do not have a generic equivalent or generic alternative.
  • Multi-Source – Multi-source drugs are those that are available both as the brand-name drug, and as generic equivalents or generic alternatives.

Q. How do I obtain specialty medications?     

A. OptumRx has contracted with BriovaRx to provide direct mail-order delivery of specialty medications. If you use a pharmacy other than BriovaRx, you will responsible for the entire cost of the medication. By filling your specialty prescriptions through Briova, plan copays will apply. Call 855-427-4682 to speak to a patient-care representative. Specialty-trained pharmacists and nurses are available 24/7 to answer your questions and assist you in managing your condition.

Q. How do I order refills of specialty medications?                                                                                                      
A. Accredo will contact you regularly to schedule your next refill and see how your therapy is progressing. 

Q. How do I order refills of specialty medications?                                                                                                      

A. BriovaRx will contact you regularly to schedule your next refill and see how your therapy is progressing. 

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Retirement Plans

Retirement: General

Q. Does Columbia University provide retirement programs to Support Staff?
A. Yes, the University provides the following retirement programs to its Support Staff: 1) the Columbia University Retirement Plan for Officers, Support Staff and Supporting Staff Association; and 2) the Voluntary Retirement Savings Plan (VRSP).

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Retirement: Voluntary Retirement Savings Plan (VRSP)

Q. If I enroll in the VRSP, do I have to wait until the next Open Enrollment to change my contributions?
A. No. You may elect to change or discontinue your contribution at any time during the year at

Q. Will participation in the VRSP reduce my Social Security benefits?
A. No. Pre-tax contributions to the VRSP reduce taxable compensation for federal (and in some instances, state) income tax purposes only.
Q. I am a Part-Time member of Columbia's Support Staff. Am I eligible to contribute to the VRSP?
A. Yes. You can contribute to the VRSP as long as you are employed by and receive a paycheck from Columbia University.

Q. How can I invest my VRSP account?
A. You can select investment funds for your contributions from one or both of the plan carriers: TIAA and Vanguard. Please contact the carriers directly to review the investment choices available to you via their contact information below or at

Q. What are the maximum pre-tax dollars I can contribute?
A.  For 2018, the IRS annual limit on pre-tax contributions is $18,500 ($19,000 in 2019). If you are age 50 or over, you can contribute an additional $6,000 in catch-up contributions for 2018 (annual total of $24,500 in 2018 and $25,000 in 2019). If you contributed to another employer’s pre-tax retirement savings plan during the calendar year in which you are hired by Columbia, be sure the contribution percentage you elect for the VRSP does not bring your contributions over the IRS annual limit.

Q. What is eligible pay for the VRSP?
A. In general, eligible pay for the VRSP is your gross compensation reported as W-2 pay, and excludes imputed income on the value of certain gifts and rewards.

Q. Can I roll over my 401(k) or 403(b) account balance from my previous employer?
A. Yes, once you have set up your VRSP account, fill out a Rollover Form. You may also be required to coordinate this rollover with your former employer and the selected carrier.

Q. How can I take a loan from my VRSP account?
A. You can take a loan if you have funds invested with TIAA. As an active employee, if you have a VRSP balance, you may be eligible to apply for up to two concurrent loans through TIAA. If your money is not invested with TIAA, you must first request an asset transfer from Vanguard to TIAA. Please contact TIAA at or call 800-842-2252 to complete the necessary paperwork.

Q. What criteria do I need to meet to be eligible for a hardship withdrawal?
A.  You must have exhausted the maximum number of loans (2) available to you under the VRSP. Under the IRS guidelines, a hardship withdrawal can only be requested under the following circumstances:

  • The purchase of a primary residence
  • Tuition fees for higher education
  • Payments necessary to prevent eviction from or foreclosure on your primary residence
  • Burial or funeral expenses for immediate family
  • Payment of certain unreimbursed medical expenses
  • The repair of casualty damage to your principal residence

The amount of the hardship withdrawal cannot exceed the exact amount needed to cover your financial need, plus any income taxes or penalties.

Q. When am I eligible for a distribution from the VRSP?
A. Generally, if you withdraw assets prior to age 59½, the IRS will impose a 10% penalty tax, in addition to the normal tax consequences. If you meet one of the following criteria, you will not be subject to the 10% tax penalty.

  • Upon reaching age 59½
  • Retiring on and after the year in which your turn 55
  • Disability
  • Death

Q. When must I withdraw money from my VRSP account?
A. Generally, you must begin to take withdrawals from your VRSP account no later than April 1 of the year following the year in which you turn age 70½. If you are still working, you can delay withdrawal from your VRSP account until April 1 following the year in which you retire.

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Retirement: Retirement Planning

Q. How can I learn more about planning for my retirement?
A. The Columbia University Benefits department sponsors retirement planning workshops several times a year. Workshops are designed to give participants an overview of the retirement planning process and provide education on topics including, taxation, income requirements and estate planning. You may register on the Benefits website under “Events.” In addition to the workshops, the University’s investment carriers provide one-on-one counseling with participants to assist with decision making on investments and personal planning for retirement. You can register at the appropriate vendor websites.

Q. I am thinking of retiring. What do I need to do?  
A. Contact the Benefits Service Center at or call 212-851-7000 to discuss your options by phone or to schedule a meeting with a Benefits Specialist.

Q. As a member of Columbia's Support Staff, am I eligible for Retiree Medical coverage?
A. You may be eligible for Support Staff Retiree Medical benefits if you leave the University on or after age 55 and have completed at least 10 years of continuous benefits-eligible service with the University after the age of 45.

Q. I am turning age 65 and still working at Columbia University. Do I need to apply for Medicare?
A. No. You do not need to apply for Medicare if you are still employed by the University and eligible for benefits. If you are 65 or older and decide to retire, contact Medicare at or call 877-267-2323 60-90 days ahead of your retirement date to discuss your options.

Q. I am turning age 65 and am about to retire. Do I need to apply for Medicare if I elect a Columbia University Retiree Medical Plan?
A. To enroll in a Columbia University retiree medical plan, you must enroll in Medicare Parts A and B. The Supplemental plans offered by Columbia University are secondary to Medicare. These plans also include drug coverage so there is no need to enroll in Medicare Part D (prescription drug coverage).

Q. What options do I have as a retiree for dental coverage?
A. If you are enrolled in the Dental Plan you may continue this coverage for up to 18 months under COBRA. You will receive a COBRA packet in the mail and have 30 days in which to enroll.

Q. Can I use my Life Insurance after I leave Columbia University?
A. You can convert your life insurance coverage to an individual policy by contacting Cigna at 800-423-1282. Rates will be based on your current age. Evidence of insurability will not be required as long as you apply within 31 days after retirement.

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Retirement: Roth

Q. What is a Roth contribution?
A. Roth contributions are after-tax contributions. You pay tax on the contributions today and when you take a qualified distribution, you won’t have to pay taxes on the contributions and the investment gains/losses on those contributions. The distribution will be tax-free. Unlike pre-tax contributions to the VRSP, you’ll pay taxes on Roth contributions along with the rest of your pay, before they are allocated to the Plan.

The money you contribute on a Roth basis will be taxed as part of your current pay. Unlike pre-tax contributions, Roth contributions don’t reduce your current taxable income. However, if you receive a payout of your Roth savings from the Plan for a qualified distribution, you’ll pay no future taxes on your Roth savings and their investment earnings. So, the tax advantage comes later, after your employment ends, when you receive a payout from your VRSP account.

Q. Can I make additional age 50+ Roth catch-up contributions?
A. Yes; both standard VRSP contributions and catch-up contributions may be made as Roth contributions.
Q. How are Roth contributions different from pre-tax contributions?
A. Roth and pre-tax contributions are generally different in three ways:

  1. At the time you contribute:
    • Roth: You pay taxes on the Roth contribution in the same pay period in which you contribute.
    • Pre-tax: Pre-tax contributions are not taxed when you contribute them; they lower your current income for tax purposes.
  2. When you take a distribution for retirement:
    • Roth: You don’t pay taxes on your distribution at retirement, provided it is a qualified distribution. Neither the Roth contributions nor the investment gains/losses that have accumulated will be subject to income tax when you start living off your VRSP savings at retirement. A qualified distribution occurs when:
      • You reach age 59½; and
      • Five years have passed since you started making Roth contributions to an employer plan. This five-year period starts on January 1 of the year you make your first Roth contribution. If you begin making Roth contributions anytime within the year, your five-year period will be measured from January 1st of that year.
      • You can also withdraw Roth funds tax free if you become disabled and have had Roth in the plan for at least five years. If you die, your beneficiary will be eligible to make a tax-free withdrawal as long as your Roth contributions have been in the Plan for at least five years.
    • Pre-tax: You’ll pay taxes—on both your pre-tax contributions and their investment earnings—whenever you receive them from the VRSP.
  3. If you need to take a loan from your balances in the VRSP:
    • Roth: Your savings in the Roth under the VRSP will not be available when you want to take a loan. If you need a loan, it must be funded through your pre-tax balances.
    • Pre-Tax: You may take a loan on the maximum loan amount available to you through your pre-tax accounts.

Q. Are Roth contributions to the VRSP the same as contributions to a Roth IRA?
A. There are similarities and differences:

  • Similarities. All Roth contributions are after-tax contributions. Generally, if you hold your contributions in either the VRSP or an IRA for at least five years (starting from the January 1 of the year you first contribute) and are age 59 ½, distributions from the VRSP Roth accounts and a Roth IRA are tax-free. This means both the contributions and investment gains/losses on those contributions won’t be taxed when you start your distributions.
  • Differences. The differences between Roth contributions to the VRSP and Roth IRAs are primarily tax related and highly dependent on your individual income and tax situation. Roth IRAs have rules limiting whether you can contribute to them based on your income situation. They also have special rules regarding minimum required distributions when you turn age 70 ½.

Q. How can I start saving Roth in the VRSP?
A. To make Roth contributions, you elect a percentage of pay to contribute, just like you do when you make pre-tax contributions.

Q. How much can I contribute to a Roth?
A. You can contribute up to 80% of your pay in Roth and/or pre-tax contributions, up to the IRS annual contribution limit. For 2018, the limit remains $18,500 ($19,000 in 2019), or $24,500 if you are age 50 or over at any time during the year ($25,000 in 2019). The limits apply to your combined contributions, that is, Roth and pre-tax.

Q. I started making Roth contributions but changed my mind. Can I change my Roth contributions to pre-tax contributions, or can my Roth contributions be refunded to me?
A. No. Roth contributions cannot be changed to pre-tax or refunded to you. Once they are in the Plan, they remain in the Plan until you take a distribution. To stop making Roth contributions, update your VRSP savings percentage.

Q. Am I vested in Roth contributions?
A. Yes. You are always 100% entitled to the value of your Roth and pre-tax plan savings, adjusted for investment performance.

Q. I have a Roth IRA. Can I roll it into the VRSP?
A. No. Tax law does not allow Roth IRAs to be rolled over into the VRSP.

Q. I have a Roth account in another employer’s 403(b) or 401(k) plan. Can I roll it into the VRSP?
A. Yes.  Roth accounts from your prior employer’s 401(k) and 403(b) accounts may be rolled directly into the VRSP. If you roll over Roth contributions from a previous employer’s plan, that plan’s recordkeeper must issue the rollover directly to your VRSP account. The VRSP will not accept rollovers of Roth contributions if the distribution is made directly to you even if the distribution is rolled over within 60 days.

The five-year requirement to receive tax-free Roth retirement income begins as of the date you first made Roth contributions to your prior employer’s plan, and applies to any future Roth contributions you make to the Columbia VRSP. For example, if you started making Roth contributions to a previous employer’s plan on September 1, 2012, your five-year period would begin as of January 1, 2012 and be met as of December 31, 2016. You would be able to receive a tax-free payout (what you rolled over plus your Roth contributions to the VRSP, plus investment earnings on all your Roth money) any time after December 31, 2016, as long as you are at least age 59½.

Q. Can I take a loan from my Roth account?
A. No. Amounts held in Roth accounts cannot be used to fund a loan.

Q. Are Roth contributions available if I need to take a withdrawal from the VRSP?
A. Yes. The rules for hardship withdrawals have not changed. You will still need to demonstrate that your request qualifies under the rules related to hardship withdrawals.

Q. Does the six month suspension for hardship withdrawals apply to Roth?
A. Yes, the six month suspension applies to Roth hardships. You will be automatically reinstated to start contributing to the VRSP once six months has passed.

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Same-Sex Domestic Partner Benefits Provisions

Q. I currently cover my same-sex spouse. How does the U.S. Supreme Court ruling on DOMA affect my contributions toward our health coverage?
A. Effective September 16, 2013, same-sex spouses receive the same favorable federal tax treatment as opposite-sex spouses. This means that payroll contributions made to a Columbia medical plan will be deducted on a pre-tax basis. In addition, the cost of medical coverage will no longer be subject to imputed income.

Q. How does the DOMA ruling affect other taxation restrictions formerly imposed on my health benefits programs?
A. These taxation changes also mean that same-sex spouses will now be eligible for tax-free reimbursement under the Healthcare and Dependent Care Flexible Spending Accounts (FSAs).

Q. If I cover my same-sex spouse, will I continue to receive the $1,000 domestic partner credit?
A. No. Since your coverage is no longer subject to imputed income, you are not eligible to receive the $1,000 credit that previously offset the federal imputed income.

Q. I am legally married to my same-sex spouse. If I want to cover my same-sex spouse under my Columbia medical plan, what taxes am I subject to?
A. If you live in a state that legally recognizes same-sex marriage, state taxes will not be withheld on the healthcare premium you pay for your same-sex spouse. If your state of residence does not legally recognize same-sex marriage, the healthcare premiums you pay to cover your same-sex spouse may be subject to state taxes.

Q. I am not married, but would like to cover my same-sex domestic partner under my health coverage. Is he/she eligible for coverage under my healthcare plan?
A. Yes, provided you meet the eligibility requirements described in Benefits Highlights.

Q. Can I cover my opposite-sex domestic partner under my health coverage?
A. No. Opposite-sex domestic partners are not eligible dependents under the Columbia University health plans.

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Spending Accounts

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Healthcare Flexible Spending Account (FSA)

Q. What is the maximum annual contribution limit allowed under the Healthcare FSA? If I start contributing mid-year can I contribute the full amount?
A. The maximum amount you can contribute to a Healthcare FSA is $2,650 annually. If you are hired mid-year, you can elect to contribute the full amount provided you have not contributed during the current calendar year to an FSA with Columbia University. If you are married, your spouse may also contribute $2,650 to an FSA sponsored by his/her employer. Any amounts rolled over from the previous year do not count towards these contribution limits.

If you are a member of the SSA or Local 2110, and elect the Choice Plus 90 plan for 2019, you will receive a Columbia contribution for the Health Care FSA based on your level of coverage. This Columbia contribution does not affect how much you can contribute and will be made at the beginning of the year.


Maximum Annual Contribution
Level of Medical Coverage in
Choice Plus 90 Plan
Yearly Contributions
Employee Only$120
Employee + Spouse or Child(ren)$240

Q. Will UnitedHealthcare’s Medical and Vision, Aetna Dental and OptumRx out-of-pocket claim amounts be automatically rolled over to my Healthcare FSA?
A. With UHC’s convenient auto-rollover feature, when your medical, vision, prescription drug or dental claim is processed, your out-of-pocket amounts will automatically be submitted to your Healthcare FSA for reimbursement. You will receive a check at your home mailing address (or you can sign up for direct deposit) without needing to submit a claim form.

Q. What if I prefer to manage my FSA funds and choose which expenses are reimbursed?       
A. If you prefer to manage your claim submission, you can opt out of the claim auto-rollover at any time by logging into UHC’s website at You will need to opt out of the claim auto-rollover every year. If you opt out, you will need to file reimbursement claims online or manually with UnitedHealthcare FSA.

Q. How can I use my Healthcare FSA to pay for my eligible healthcare expenses?     
A. You can pay for eligible healthcare expenses from providers that are in the UHC and OptumRx network (prescription copays) with your Health Care Spending Card. If the card is accepted, no substantiation will be required. If you are unable to use your card at the time of purchase, keep your receipts as you will need to submit (1) a medical claim to UHC or a dental claim to Aetna and allow the auto-rollover feature for the FSA to work; or 2) for other eligible healthcare expenses, submit your expenses to UHC, the FSA Claims Administrator, either manually via a form by mail or online at The deadline to submit current expenses is March 31 of the following year.

Please Note: a number of Health Care Spending Cards will expire the end of 2018. UHC will send new cards to your home mailing address in mid-November.

Q. What happens if by the end of the calendar year, I have not incurred enough out-of-pocket healthcare expenses to use my full annual healthcare FSA?                                                                                      

A. The IRS has strict guidelines regarding FSAs. Only a balance of up to $500 in your Healthcare FSA can be rolled over for the next plan year. Thus, it is important to estimate your expenses carefully, incur your claims before December 31 and make sure that your claims for the calendar year are received by UHC no later than March 31 of the following year. The full annual allocation to the Healthcare FSA is available at the beginning of the year for reimbursement, even though contributions are prorated during the calendar year. Please note that if you leave the University or become ineligible for benefits, you can only be reimbursed for expenses incurred prior to your employment end date or the date you became benefits ineligible. Any remaining funds will be forfeited. Note: There is no rollover at the end of the year for the Dependent Care FSA, and only amounts contributed are available for reimbursement.

Q. If my divorce is finalized mid-year, can I reduce my contributions to the Healthcare FSA?
A. Yes, a divorce is a Qualified Life Status Change that allows you to make a change in your Healthcare FSA contribution within 31 days of the event. You may reduce your contributions for the remainder of the year, but you cannot reduce the annual amount below your year-to-date contributions.

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Dependent Care Flexible Spending Account (FSA)

Q. What is the annual contribution limit under the Dependent Care FSA?
A. The maximum amount you can contribute to a Dependent Care FSA is $5,000 annually, the minimum amount is $120. If your prior year W-2 wages exceed $120,000, Columbia Benefits may contact you to inform you whether your contributions must be capped as a result of mandatory IRS testing. If your spouse also contributes to a Dependent Care FSA at his/her employer, your combined annual contribution cannot exceed the IRS limit of $5,000. For details, see the Benefits Highlights.

Q. What dependent care expenses are eligible for reimbursement from the Dependent Care FSA?
A. You can be reimbursed for the cost of dependent care services for a dependent child under age 13 or other dependent adults, while you work or attend school. If you are married, your spouse must also work or attend school. Adult dependents include a parent, spouse or adult child who is physically or mentally unable to care for himself or herself.

Q. How can I pay for my eligible dependent care expenses and receive reimbursement from my Dependent Care FSA account?
A. You can pay for your eligible dependent care expenses at participating locations using your Health Care Spending Card. The card will only authorize amounts up to the balance in your account. If your card is accepted for payment, no substantiation will be required.  You may also pay out of pocket and submit your expense receipts to UHC, the FSA Claims Administrator, either manually via a form by mail or online at The deadline to submit current expenses is March 31 of the following year. Note: Unlike the Healthcare FSA there is no $500 rollover to the next year.

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Spending Accounts: Transit/Parking Reimbursement Program

Q. Can I enroll in the Transit/Parking Reimbursement Program or change my monthly pre-tax contribution at any time during the year?
Yes, you may enroll or change your monthly contribution at any time. Your 2018 monthly contribution will automatically roll over into 2019. After Open Enrollment, changes made on or before the 20th of the month, will be effective the first of the following month. A change made after the 20th of the month will be effective the first of the second month following the change date. For example, a change made on January 20 will be effective February 1, but a change made January 21 will be effective March 1.

Q. How does the Transit/Parking Reimbursement Program work?
The Program provides a convenient way to pay for commuting expenses using pre-tax dollars. You may participate in either the Transit Reimbursement Program or Parking Reimbursement Program, or both. You choose a monthly contribution amount from $10 up to the IRS limit and is deducted from two paychecks in equal installments. The 2019 IRS monthly limit for Transit is $265 and $265 for Parking. The full monthly contribution is available for reimbursement from EBPA for eligible expenses as of the first of the month.

Q. What is considered eligible commuter expenses for transit reimbursement?
You can be reimbursed up to $265 a month for commuting expenses on any public transit system for commuting to work. Examples of eligible expenses include Amtrak, Long Island Railroad, New Jersey Transit, Metro North and New York City Transit Authority buses and subways. Examples of ineligible expenses include transit expenses for your family, airfare, amounts above the IRS limit, taxis, Uber and limo services and bridge, tunnel and highway tolls, including E-Z Pass.

Q. What is considered eligible parking expenses for reimbursement?
You can be reimbursed up to $265 a month for parking if you drive to work or to a location where you board mass transit for work. Ineligible expenses include parking near your residence, parking expenses for your family members and an amount in excess of the monthly IRS limit.

Q. How do I access the funds in my Transit/Parking account(s) for reimbursement?
After you enroll for the first time, you will be sent an EBPA Benefits Card. Your Transit and/or Parking pre-tax contributions will be loaded to the card each month. If you have a card from the previous year, it will be loaded with your 2019 monthly contributions. You may swipe your card to pay for eligible commuting expenses up to the monthly IRS limit, or pay out-of-pocket and submit your claims to EBPA. Note: Parking claims require receipts for manual claim submission.

Q. What happens if I do not use my full monthly contribution?
Any unused contributions will roll over for use in future months. However, you may never be reimbursed for transit or parking expenses in an amount above the monthly IRS limit. For example, assume your usual monthly railroad ticket is $280 and you contribute the maximum IRS allowable amount of $265 a month. You go on vacation for the entire month of July, and do not stop contributions. Your balance as of August would be $265. However, you may only be reimbursed $265 for your August railroad ticket. You could stop contributions for a month, in order to bring down your balance to $0. This is especially important to remember if you are considering leaving the University.

Q. What happens if I have a Transit/Parking balance and leave the University?
If you do not incur enough eligible commuter expenses before you leave the University, to bring your balance to $0, you will forfeit any unused funds.

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Term Life Insurance

Q. Do I need to elect Basic Life Insurance coverage?
. As a regular Full-time or Part-Time active Columbia University Support Staff member, you are automatically provided with Basic Term Life Insurance by Columbia University at no cost to you. No active election is required and the coverage is with Cigna.

Q. What Benefits are provided by Basic Term life Insurance?
The Life Insurance Plan pays a lump sum benefit to your beneficiary of one times your Annual Benefits Salary up to a maximum of $50,000, in the event of your death while actively employed by Columbia University. In addition, if you become terminally ill, you may elect to have the Plan pay out a benefit while you are still living. Any amount you receive will reduce the benefit paid to your beneficiary.

Q. Can I elect Optional Term Life during Open Enrollment?
A. Yes. During Open Enrollment you may elect an additional 1x your Annual Benefits Salary (rounded to the next highest $1,000), up to the Guaranteed Issue amount (the lesser of 3x your Annual Benefits Salary or $500,000) without Evidence of Insurability. If you elect coverage above the Guaranteed Issue (up to the lesser of 5x or $500,000) or more than 1x coverage, you must provide Evidence of Insurability to Cigna. All contributions are after-tax and based on your age as of January 1. 

Q. How do I add a beneficiary for my Term Life Insurance?
To add a beneficiary, go to and click “CUBES - CU Benefits Enrollment System.” You will then be prompted to log in using you UNI and password. Select “Life Insurance Beneficiaries,” then click and follow directions to add your beneficiary (ies). When finished, be sure to select “Save & Continue.”

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Tuition Exemption Benefits Program for Support Staff

The following FAQs provide general answers to frequently asked questions. For more detailed information, please consult the Tuition Exemption Policy or your Union Collective Bargaining Agreement.

The Policy for Support Staff includes Non-Union Support Staff and members of Local 100 UNITE HERE (Faculty House), 1199 SEIU (Clerical & Cafeteria Units), Local 2110 UAW, MEBA, MM&P, 1199 SEIU United Healthcare Workers East SSA area (Medical Center), and TWU Local 241 (Maintenance & Custodial Employees and Security Officers).

The Tuition Exemption Benefit Program pays tuition costs, up to a defined limit, for your undergraduate and graduate programs* at Columbia University, Barnard College and Teachers College (excluding Summer Terms at Barnard College and Teachers College).

The benefit varies for Support Staff and their family members, so please read the Policy for Support Staff carefully.

Tuition Exemption Benefit: General

Q. Who is eligible?
If you are on the payroll as a member of the Full-Time or Part-Time Support Staff* you are eligible for the Tuition Exemption benefit. Waiting periods may apply.

*Note: SSA Part-Time employees are not eligible for Tuition Exemption benefits.

Tuition Exemption Benefit: What's Covered and What's Not Covered

Q. What does the Tuition Exemption Benefit cover?
The Tuition Exemption Benefit for Support Staff applies during the academic year to undergraduate or graduate classes at Columbia University, Barnard College and Teachers College. Eligible spouses, same-sex domestic partners, and dependents may receive the unused portion of a Support Staff member's benefit, but only at Columbia. The academic year is from September to May.

Q. Does the Tuition Exemption Benefit cover courses taken during the Summer Term?
Yes, at Columbia only. Summer courses at Barnard College and Teachers College are not covered.

Q. How is tuition paid?
. When you submit your eligibility form to the school's billing department, your tuition will be exempted and you will see a Tuition Exemption Benefit credit on your Student Account. You are responsible for paying all fees—for example, course fees and textbook and residence fees, where applicable.

Q. Can I take classes during work hours?
. If you are taking courses during working hours, you must have your supervisor's approval.

Q. Do I have to be accepted and enrolled in the school I wish to attend to be eligible for tuition exemption?
. Yes, to receive the Tuition Exemption Benefit, you must be first accepted and enrolled in the school you wish to attend. Consult your Collective Bargaining Agreement or the Tuition Exemption Policy to confirm what's covered.

To Print Your Proof of Eligibility – go to and log into the CU Benefits Enrollment System with your UNI and password. Select "Actions," then "Print Your Tuition Eligibility Form." Next, click "Tuition Exemption - For Yourself," then print, complete and sign the form.

Submit the form to your school's billing office as follows:

  • Columbia Programs: Student Service Center
    • Morningside: 205 Kent Hall
    • CUMC: 1-141 Black Building
  • Barnard College Programs: Room 15 Milbank Hall
  • Teachers College Programs: Room 133 Thompson Hall

Q. What is meant by degree matriculation?
Degree Matriculation refers to being officially accepted and enrolled in a degree program. You must be first be accepted and enrolled in the school you wish to attend before you may use the Tuition Exemption Benefit.

Q. Are Post-baccalaureate certificate programs covered?
Yes, Post-baccalaureate certificate programs are covered under the Tuition Exemption Benefit.

Q. What courses are not covered under the Tuition Exemption Benefit for Support Staff or their family members?
For courses that are not covered under the Tuition Exemption Benefit, go to your union's Tuition Exemption Overview page, where you can view "Courses Not Covered."

Q: If I am laid off, how will it affect my eligibility for Tuition Exemption?
Tuition Exemption for that term will not be revoked. However, Tuition Exemption will not be granted for any additional term, unless you are reinstated. Please refer to the Support Staff Tuition Policy for additional status changes and how they affect your Tuition Exemption Benefit.

Q. Can I drop a course without losing the Tuition Exemption benefit?
A. Yes, you can drop a course. However, to avoid any possibility of financial responsibility and to avoid having the course count toward your Tuition Exemption Benefit limits, you must arrange with your school and the Registrar to drop the course before the close of Change of Program Period.

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Tuition Exemption: Spouse or Same-Sex Domestic Partner

Q. What courses are not covered under the Tuition Exemption Benefit for spouses or same-sex domestic partners?
Courses not covered include:

  • All short -term, intensive and fee-based courses in which the instructor is paid on the basis of the number of students registered in the course
  • Non-Credit Courses
  • Courses with no point/credit value
  • Applied music courses (i.e., musical instrument instruction)
  • Course numbers beginning with the letter "Q" or "N," unless such a course is taken to fulfill a degree requirement
  • Any courses you audit

Q. Can my spouse or same-sex domestic partner drop a course without losing the Tuition Exemption benefit?
Yes, your spouse or same-sex domestic partner can drop a course, however, they need to arrange with the School and the Registrar to drop it before the close of Change of Program Period to avoid any possibility of financial responsibility and to avoid having the course count toward their Tuition Exemption course limits.

Q. Is the undergraduate Tuition Exemption Benefit for my same-sex domestic partners considered taxable income?
Yes. The value of any Tuition Exemption Benefit for your same-sex domestic partner is treated as part of the Support Staff's taxable income by the Federal Government and, therefore Columbia University will withhold taxes.

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Tuition Exemption: Children

Q. When are my children eligible for Tuition Exemption benefits?
Eligibility of your children to receive Tuition Exemption benefits depends on your years of service, as there are waiting periods for Support Staff who are non-union and those covered by a collective bargaining contract. Waiting periods are as follows:

Two (2) years of continuous employment for Support Staff before children are eligible for the Tuition Exemption Benefit:

  • Non-Union Support Staff
  • Local 2110 UAW
  • 1999 SEIU United Healthcare Workers East SSA area (Medical Center)
  • Local 199 SEIU (Clerical & Cafeteria Units)
  • MEBA
  • MM&P

Four (4) years of continuous employment for Support Staff before children are eligible for the Tuition Exemption Benefit:

  • Local 100 UNITE HERE (Faculty House)
  • TWU Local 241 (Maintenance & Custodial and Security Officers)

Q. Does my child have to meet certain eligibility requirements?
Yes, provided you are a Full-Time or Part-Time Support Staff member, or the spouse or same-sex domestic partner of a Full-time or Part-time Support Staff member. Eligible children must be:

  • Matriculated in a Bachelor's or Master's Degree Program only; and
  • Be your biological child, adopted child or stepchild, or under your legal guardianship.

To receive Tuition Exemption, your child must also be matriculated into an undergraduate or graduate program at Columbia only, and will be eligible only for the unused portion of your Tuition Exemption benefit, based on your Support Staff Group, Full-Time or Part-Time, What's Covered for Children. Please refer to your Collective Bargaining Agreement for specifics.

Q. Can my child take courses as a non-matriculated student at Columbia?
Yes, as long as your child has completed high school and is registered as a degree candidate at an institution outside of Columbia, he or she may be able to obtain admission as a non-matriculated student at Columbia. Proof of matriculation status at the other school is required.
Note: Your child must present to the Benefits Service Center a letter on the external institution's letterhead, stating good standing and that the course being taken is to fulfill part of the child's academic program.

Q. Can my child drop a course without losing the Tuition Exemption benefit?
Yes, your child can drop a course; however, they will need to arrange with the School and the Registrar to drop it before the close of Change of Program Period to avoid any possibility of financial responsibility and to avoid having the course count toward the Tuition Exemption course limits.

Q. Is the undergraduate Tuition Exemption Benefit for my same-sex domestic partner's dependent children considered taxable income?
Yes. The value of any Tuition Exemption Benefit for same-sex domestic partners' children is treated as part of the Support Staff's taxable income by the Federal Government and therefore Columbia University will withhold taxes.

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Tuition Exemption: How to Apply

Q. How do I apply for Tuition Exemption?
You must be accepted and enrolled in the school you wish to attend. You must complete the application process each term, by submitting your Tuition Eligibility Form for you and/or your family member, with related materials, to the appropriate school office during the Change of Program Period. The timing is important to ensure your Student Account reflects the Tuition Exemption Benefit credit, to avoid late fees.

Q. How do I determine my eligibility and that of my family members?
Print your Tuition Benefit Eligibility Form from the CU Benefits Enrollment System. For family members, you will also need to print and complete this form.

Q. What if my graduate courses are job related?
If you are enrolled in graduate-level courses or a graduate degree program that is related to your job, you must submit the Job-Related Graduate Education Certification form to Student Financial Services before the end of the Change in Program Period to avoid your benefit being taxed above the Federal annual limit of $5,250 per year. Please be sure to attach your Tuition Benefit Eligibility Form, and then submit as follows:

  • Morningside: 205 Kent Hall
  • CUMC: 1-141 Black Building

Q. What if the name of my family member does not appear on my Tuition Exemption form in the CU Benefits Enrollment System?
Only dependents that have been verified with the Columbia Benefits Service Center will be displayed on the Tuition Exemption—for Your Dependents Form. You will need to submit proof of relationship to the Columbia Benefits Service Center, which may consist of the following:

  • Spouse/Same-sex domestic partners – marriage certificate; see the Benefits Highlights for guidelines
  • Dependent child – birth certificate, adoption papers or guardianship papers
  • Child of a same-sex domestic partner – birth certificate, adoption papers or guardianship papers, and domestic partnership documentation as described in Benefits Highlights.

Once your dependent status is verified with the Benefits Service Center, you will be able to print out the Tuition Benefit Eligibility Form for the appropriate dependent.

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Q. Do I need to make a separate election for vision coverage?
No, Vision benefits are part of all of the UHC medical plans. Once you enroll in a Columbia University medical plan, you will be automatically enrolled Vision benefits.

Q. How do I find a vision provider in the UHC Vision network?
For a listing of vision providers, visit and select “Benefits & Coverage”, “Vision” and then “Vision Benefit Highlights.” You will be taken to the UHC vision website where you can search for a provider under “Find a Provider.”

Q. How do I file a vision claim?
If you go to a network provider you do not need to file any claims. However, if you go to an out-of-network provider, print the UHC Out-of-Network Vision Claim Form and fill out the form and mail or fax with the receipts to:

UnitedHealthcare Vision
Attn: Claims Dept.
P.O .Box 30978
Salt Lake City , Utah 84130
Fax: 248-733-6060

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