The question is: To (Medicare) B or not to B?

Finding the best deal among 20 to 30 health plan options can be tough for young or healthy federal workers. But it is a real, albeit vital chore for those with ...

Finding the best deal among 20 to 30 health plan options can be tough for young, healthy or slightly beat-up middle-aged federal workers. But it is a real, albeit vital, chore for retirees and survivor annuitants who often have less money and more medical problems.

Consumer’s Checkbook Guide to Health Plans For Federal Employees says medical expenses for young children typically average about $2,000 per year. Those of folks younger than 55 years old run about $6,000, whereas those age 65 and older average $12,000.

Because of their special age-related needs, retirees and their survivors have to decide whether to buy Medicare Part B as part of their federal health program.

Checkbook says that annuitants with Medicare Parts A and B can save a lot of money in premiums if they “suspend (not drop) their [Federal Employees Health Benefit Program] enrollment, join a Medicare Advantage plan, and pay only the Medicare premium.” Checkbook says they can “re-enroll in an FEHBP in the future without penalty, and in the meantime enjoy good catastrophic protection, have low copays and save thousands in premium costs.”

About one in three retirees belong to a Medicare Advantage plan, Checkbook said. Under the “suspend” option, you pay only the Part B premium and sometimes an extra premium charge — usually only a few hundred dollars per year and often nothing at all — that the [Medicare Advantage] plan charges Medicare enrollees for additional benefits, such as prescriptions drug coverage.

You can later switch out of [Medicare Advantage] and rejoin the FEHBP program as if you had never left during any future open season. This works equally well for a couple when both spouses are enrolled in Medicare, or if they are willing to pursue separate health insurance options.

If you choose to “suspend” but not drop FEHBP coverage, Checkbook says there are four good options:

  1. Enroll in one of the better MA plans and suspend FEHBP enrollment. This taking into account dollar costs only.
  2. Enroll in the Aetna Direct CDHP plan or the Blue Cross Basic plan. Your special account will pay toward the Medicare Part B premium or, in the Aetna Direct plan, for drug or dental costs not otherwise covered. And you also get a Medicare wraparound — several Kaiser plans around the nation (excluding Kaiser DC) will pay almost the entire Part B premium. These plans provide only a partial wraparound, however.
  3. Enroll in an FEHBP plan with rich benefits, such as APWU, NALC, Kaiser or many other HMOs and drop Medicare Part B.
  4. Enroll in a low-premium national plan such as the GEHA standard option along with Part B and get a Medicare wraparound benefit. Or join a low premium HMO and use Part B to fill holes and get services outside the plan’s network.

Two of the options permit keeping both Part B and FEHBP enrollment, but two “let you pay only one premium. All of them vary in details that you can only assess after studying the procure of one or two plans.”

But all of the options, Checkbook says, provide most annuitants substantial savings.

It’s complicated stuff and the choices are frustrating sometimes. But it’s worth doing the homework. Remember the open enrollment period ends at close of business Monday, Dec. 10.

Good hunting!

Nearly Useless Factoid

By Amelia Brust

Chameleons change their color mostly to regulate body temperature or to communicate — not to camouflage themselves from predators or prey.

Source: Mental Floss

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