Will higher health premiums erase pay raise?

There isn't a whole lot that federal workers can do about proposals to trim or maybe even slash benefits in their retirement program.

While thousands of career feds sweat over what Congress and the Trump administration might do to them, many are on track to pay w-a-a-a-y too much in health insurance premiums in 2018. For many, the 1.9 percent white-collar pay raise won’t amount to much in take-home pay, since premiums are going up an “average” of 6.1 percent.

Most people understand the impact of various plans, some serious, some just legislative floaters, to shave retirement benefits, if any, or all of them are approved. The House budget has a specific group of suggested cuts in the federal retirement program. The Senate budget calls for savings, but doesn’t name where they should be made. Given the drive to enact tax “reform,” it is possible that the CSRS and FERS programs will, once again, dodge a bullet. We’ll know in just a few weeks.

In the meantime, there is plenty that pro-active stuff feds — and especially retirees — can do during the health insurance open season that runs from Nov. 13 to Dec. 11. During that time, all federal workers, postal employees, retirees or their survivors can shop from 20-plus plans. They include fee-for-service national plans (the big one is Blue Cross-Blue Shield) to local health maintenance organizations and special health savings and high deductible plans that have been described as a Roth IRA on steroids.

The problem, year after year, is that while at least half of all workers, and even more retirees, should change plans, only six in 100 actually do it. Walton Francis, author of Consumers’ Checkbook Guide to Health Plans for Federal Employees, says many people can save $1,000-to-$2,000 next year if they change plans. In many cases, they can receive equal coverage while paying 20-to-30 percent less than their current plan.

Open season is also the time to protect your family from potential bankruptcy, if you have a catastrophic medical year. Different plans have very different deductibles, meaning the amount you must pay out-of-pocket before insurance takes over. Even a young, healthy individual, couple or family can be involved in an accident. This year, the limit-to-you amount among the various family health plans ranges from $7,050 to as much as $19,620. For a single person, the limit-to-you amount ranges from as little as $3,540 to $8,980.

Self-plus one plans

For years, young couples and older retirees pushed for a self-plus-one option. They resented having to pay premiums for a family plan when there was just the two of them. The pros all said there would be little to no difference between self-only and self-plus-one plans, but after years of infighting, the self-plus-one option is available. And it turns out the experts were right. The difference between the self-only and plus-premium is hard to spot in some plans. In fact, if you are in certain self-plus-one plans, you might find you could save a few bucks by switching to a family plan.

Bottom line: With changes in the wind (or not) that you can’t control, promise yourself that this open season, you won’t walk zombie-like through it. Do a little shopping and save a lot of money.

Nearly Useless Factoid

By Michael O’Connell

Oct. 8 is World Zombie Day.

Source: Fact Retriever

Copyright © 2024 Federal News Network. All rights reserved. This website is not intended for users located within the European Economic Area.

Related Stories