Dodging a $20,000 Health Tab

Between now and December 13, thousands of federal workers, retirees or their survivors will be making what could be one of the most important financial decisions of their lives.

Or not!

It’s a potentially life-changing (even life-saving) opportunity that could rank up there with your decision to marry, divorce or have children. Or to see if that never-been-used 1944 Army surplus parachute you bought actually works!

Your own personal D-day involves whether to participate in the Federal Employees Health Benefits Program (for most a no-brainer), and which health plan to pick to cover you and your family members.

The FEHBP is considered the best health plan in the nation. The government pays the lion’s share of premiums; and plans cannot reject anyone because of age, preexisting conditions, lifestyle, or for any other reason. And unlike many private sector companies who drop retirees, the FEHBP is for life – Life-plus if you have a spouse and a family plan.

Starting next year, children of feds are eligible for coverage under any of the FEHBP family plans up to age 26. That is true even if the nondependent child is married and has children, although the spouse and children are not eligible for coverage under the FEHBP. Yet!

When shopping for health insurance many people focus first (and too often foremost) on premiums. But that is only part of the package. Premiums are important and you can often find similar coverage in a less costly plan. Determining if your doctor is in the network is important because in most cases (for cost sake) experts say you should stick with physicians that participate in your plan.

But the big reason most people buy insurance is for catastrophic coverage. How much you will have to pay out-of-pocket if you or a family member is hit with a major illness next year. Or hit by a bus.

If you have to pay more than $20,000 in medical expenses before your insurance took over, could you handle it? Wouldn’t it be better to pick a plan that limits your out-of-pocket costs to $3,000 or $4,000 max?

Although most of the open season attention is focused on the FEHBP plans, you will also be able to sign up for a flexible spending account, and vision and dental insurance options through December 13th. The federal life insurance option (FEGLI) and the federal long-term-care insurance plan are NOT participating in this open season.

During the open season we’ll have a series of columns and radio programs to help you decide the best buy for you. Tomorrow at 10 a.m. Walton Francis is our in-studio guest on our Your Turn with Mike Causey radio show. He’ll also be on a couple more times during the D-d ay period. He’s the long-time author of the Washington Consumer Checkbook’s Guide to Health Plans. Many federal agencies have subscribed to the guide which workers can use for free.

Also assisting us on Your Turn this open season will be David Snell. He’s a former long-time fed with expertise in the federal health program and related benefits. He’s now with the National Active and Retired Federal Employees so he can talk about best buys for active duty employees, for retired feds and for the tens of thousands of survivors of federal and postal workers.

So listen in tomorrow if you can. Or, if you can’t listen at work, check out the archived shows on the subject. Run it by the boss because this is important stuff and he or she should be listening too. And just in case you hadn’t heard, you can now listen on your mobile phone too!

2011 Premiums

To see what your health plan will charge you next year click here for the premium line up. A little shopping could save you a lot of money.

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