Ready to retire? Check back in 5 years

Okay so the magic date has arrived. You’ve served Uncle Sam through war and peace for 20, 30, maybe even 40 years. Now it’s your time.

You’ve told friends and coworkers that the freedom to sleep late and avoid traffic is at hand. You are about to tell the boss what you really think of him or her. Good times!

Then you get the word, maybe from an office mate, maybe from Human Resources. And the word is: You are not going anywhere, Chump! You’ve gotta do another five years, a hard five.

If you do retire you won’t be eligible for coverage under the Federal Employees Health Benefits Plan, not now and not ever. How come?

Each year hundreds, maybe thousands of feds — most of whom were covered by their spouses’ private sector health plan — learn the hard way about the five-year rule. It is simple and unbending: No matter how long you’ve been with the federal government you cannot enroll or stay in the FEHBP  unless you have been in it, and either paying premiums or being covered by a spousal FEHBP plan for the five years preceding retirement.

A small number of private companies provide free or low cost insurance to their employees and spouses, but not when they retire. Once out you are on your own and, unless you’ve been in one of the FEHBP plans for the last five years, you and your spouse will not be eligible to join it, ever.

Walton Francis, author of Checkbook’s Guide to Federal Health Plans, said “…even if your spouse’s private sector plan is every bit as good as any of the federal plans, consider the cost of this coverage compared to some of the lower-premium federal plans … You must be covered under the FEHBP continuously for the 5 years preceding retirement to be eligible for enrollment after retirement. There are some very rare exceptions, such as certain agency downsizing situations. You don’t have to be in the same federal plan each year, but you must be covered continuously by some FEHBP plan or, in the special case of military dependents, TRICARE.”

Also, Francis said, “if you should die while you are not enrolled in a federal family plan, your spouse will lose eligibility for the programs. Since most other [private] employers do not continue health insurance coverage past retirement, or cannot be counted on to do so, the only guarantee that your spouse can keep this entitlement [FEHBP coverage] is to be continuously enrolled in one of the FEHBP plans.”

Bottom line: You need to buy insurance to have insurance in retirement.

Francis recommended enrolling in a low-premium high deductible (HD) plan that will give you a savings account “as large or larger than the HD plan … with double coverage you will probably not ever reach the high deductible and will realize this savings in most circumstances.”

Bottom line, again, is that these HD plans are really almost “free” if they supplement other coverage from your private sector spouses plan, he said.

Feds, postal workers and retirees have until next Monday to pick their 2019 plan. If you have questions for Francis, send them to and he’ll answer them on Wednesday’s Your Turn radio show at 10 a.m. EST.

Nearly Useless Factoid

By Amelia Brust

Hibernation is not like being in a coma, but rather an extended period of “torpor,” or a state where metabolism is depressed to less than five percent of normal. For hibernating species, about 80 percent of the energy spent during hibernation is for intermittently waking and warming up. And as temperatures rise, these animals are prone to being awake more frequently and losing energy.

Source: National Geographic

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