Each year during the federal health insurance open season, only about 6 percent of federal workers and retirees change to another health plan. For many, that’s a $1,000-to-$2,000 per year mistake because they will be paying too much in premiums (or out-of-pocket costs), because they are too busy, too scared or too lazy to shop around.
The low-turnover rate remains steady, year after year, despite the fact that experts say that if people really did their homework, checked out premium and benefit changes, at least 20-30 percent of all the enrollees should change plans. They could get more benefits bang for their buck. Sometimes lower their premiums while getting the same, or even better coverage, in some cases.
We’ll have more on that during the Open Season, which will run from Nov. 14 through Dec. 12. We’ll have a series of “best buy” columns during the open season telling different groups, young, old, healthy, sick, active, retired, which plans they should consider to save thousands of dollars during the coming year. Our advisors will be Walton Francis, author of the Consumers’ Checkbook Guide to Health Plans for Federal Employees & Annuitants, and David Snell, director of retirement benefits for the National Active and Retired Federal Employees.
During that time, the government will spend millions of dollars and thousands of man (er, person) hours getting information to the nearly 9 million current and retired feds, their survivors, ex-spouses and dependent children about 2017 changes in benefits and premiums.
For non-postal workers and retirees, premiums are going up an average of 6.2 percent. The government will continue to pay the lion’s share of the premium (over 70 percent) for non-postal workers retirees. It will pay an even larger chunk of the premium for postal workers. Many agencies will subscribe to the online version of Checkbook’s Guide to Health Plans, so workers can shop, on government time, for their best health plan options. For free.
Each year, the emphasis is on getting active and retired feds to check out the competition. See if they can get equal (in some cases better) coverage by switching to different plans. It doesn’t happen because of what NARFE legislative director calls DI (Decisional Intertia). But what if it happened the other way? What if the health plan you’ve learn to love over the years goes away? Or says you can no longer belong? What then?
At least that is the fear of many workers and retirees who think — right or wrong — they might not be able to stay in their current health plan when and if Congress and the White House allow the U.S. Postal Service to set up its own stand-alone health plan. Backers say it would be better for workers and taxpayers and could slow the rise in premiums. Critics say it would make big changes detrimental to feds and retirees.
For background, we’ve had two pro -con columns on the stand-lone postal plan, and two special Your Turnradio shows. One arguing against the postal reform plan featured Walt Francis. The second column and program featured James Sauber, chief of staff of the National Association of Letter Carriers and NARFE’s Jessica Klement. You can click on here to read them, or listen to both programs at your leisure:
We got lots of feedback from people who read the columns, listened to the shows and who had the same two questions:
What if I am a non-postal employee enrolled in one of the plans backed by postal unions (NALC, APWU, Mail Handlers) and the Postal Service sets up its own plan?
Would I be required to take (and pay for) Medicare Part B?
More to come on the question of mandatory (or not) Medicare Part B and the likelihood of non-postal workers losing some choices. Bottom line. Nothing is changing for 2017. The same rules and plans apply. And Postal Reform is not exactly a top priority for the Clinton or Trump campaigns. It’s possible neither of them even knows the details (which are in dispute), much less has a passion for the proposed change. So if you are going to worry about something, don’t spend much time fretting about losing your favorite health plan. You two are good together at least through 2017, and probably a lot longer than that.