Your partner or your health plan?

Every year, Uncle Sam holds an extensive and expensive open season when federal workers, retirees and their survivors can update, enroll in or change their bene...

Is it true that federal workers and retirees voluntarily change spouses, partners or significant others more often than they switch health plans? And if so, what does that mean? What does that say about priorities? What about people who have been with the same health plan — but not the same housemate — since the 1990s?

Every year, Uncle Sam holds an extensive and expensive open season, when federal workers, retirees and their survivors can update, enroll in or change their benefits package. Many people should change. Most do nothing. Arguably the most important item on the benefits list is their health plan. This year’s open season ends Dec. 11. Many federal agencies have subscribed to the online version of the Consumers’ Checkbook Guide to Health Plans for Federal Employees. In many cases, workers can shop on-the-clock. While getting paid.

What they should be looking for is the plan with the best catastrophic coverage (limiting how much you will have to pay out-of-pocket in 2018 in a worst-case scenario). A plan that includes your favorite doctor or doctors in its network. A plan with the best prescription drug benefit, if that is important. And a plan you can afford.

All of the plans in the Federal Employees Health Benefits Program are good. Most are better than most private-sector packages, especially for retirees.

Yet every year, only about 6 percent of all feds and retirees change plans. Many of them are young, healthy couples exploring HMOs (which are excellent for maternity coverage) or joining plans that can actually pay you.

So why don’t more people change? We got this very thoughtful email from a retired Michigan letter carrier that says it all:

“First of all, I have to thank you for all you do for federal employees/retirees. Navigating federal benefits sure requires a lot of time and patience! Your podcasts and columns sure do help.

I am a retired postal worker (FERS) with 33 years in. Getting the FERS supplement and have been retired two years now. Listened to your podcast on federal open season and would like to comment. Our FEHB benefits actually went down this year (Michigan, Blue Care Network LX3), so we are happy with that! Hate the fact that we need so many websites to navigate our benefits: OPM, TSP, FedBenefits and then the one for health care.

The reason I am writing is that for us to change health care, our benefit cost would really have to go up. I am very skittish about doing anything with our health care, as I would hate to click the wrong buttons and negate it for both my wife and I. So hard to get (have to have it the last five years, carry it into retirement, etc.) and once it is gone, it is gone forever! Thought I would give you our two cents!”

— Robert in Michigan

Your Turn

Today’s Your Turn radio show features Walton Francis, the nation’s expert on federal health plans. He’ll go over tips you can use to get the best coverage at the lowest premium. That is 10 a.m. ET today on Federal News Radio, or 1500 AM in the D.C. metro area. This is a brand-new show, but because it was pre-recorded, we won’t be able to take telephone calls. The Nov. 29 show will be live and immediately following it, Walt Francis and I will be doing a webchat. Hope to have you at all three.

Nearly Useless Factoid

By Michael O’Connell

 Good, ripe cranberries will bounce.


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