Feds and retirees (or the surviving spouses of both groups) have five more shopping days (six if you like to cut things really close) to pick their 2008 health insurance plan. The health benefits open season ends at close of business next Monday. That’s December 10th.
If you do nothing—which covers most people—one of three things will happen to you:
1) You will be fine. Your current insurance plan may not have reduced any benefits, and its’ 2008 premium will only go up a little. And your favorite doctor will continue in your plans’ network, meaning you will pay only relatively small co-payments for each visit. In which not moving to another plan is the smart move.
2) Your plan has had a major change in the benefits you want and need. Or its premiums are going up more than you can comfortably handle. And it turns out your doctor or the hospital you like has moved to another health plans preferred provider network. In which case if you continue to see that doctor you may pay an arm and a leg to have him or her work on your arm, or leg.
3) You may save/lose as much as $1,000 next year by paying premiums for services you don’t want, and probably won’t need. Or the premiums in your plan may be so high that even if you are a heavy-medical user you will wind up paying more in premiums than you do for medical services.
So what to do? First check out the brochure of your current health plan and compare its premiums and benefits with a couple of other plans. Run those brochures by your doctor (or someone in the office) to see if they are in the plans network. If not, consider getting a new plan or a new doctor.
Don’t pick a plan because its premiums are very low (hoping to save money) or because its premiums are very high. A high-premium plan often gives excellent coverage but there is a good chance you will spend more for services than in paying premiums.
Remember the FEHBP is forever. You can’t be kicked out when you retire, get very sick or very old. Same for your spouse (provided you have a family plan). He or she can remain in the program, paying premiums out of their federal annuity or survivor annuity until death. Older participants in the FEHBP (who average $11,000 per year in medical bills) will continue to pay the same premiums as younger feds ($4,000 per year in costs) or young children who average $1,000 per year in medical bills according to Walton Francis. He wrote the book: Checkbook’s Guide to Health Plans. You can buy it on some DC area newstands, order it on-line or get the on-line version free if your agency has subscribed for you. This perk applies to workers, not retirees. To see if your agency has paid for you, click here.
Medicare Part B: If you are retired with federal health plan coverage do you still need to buy Medicare Part B? The answer is a costly “it depends.” For some expert advice click here.
One Stop Shopping: To minimize your shopping time we worked up a check-list everybody should check out. It covers Flexible Spending Accounts (which most people should have), Medical Savings Accounts, the status of children turning age 22, and the best plans for people—adult children and ex-spouses—who must pay the full premium for an FEHBP plan. How important is that? Consider, when you buy an FEHBP plan on your own your premiums, on average, go up a MINIMUM of 72 percent. For more on the checklist, click here.