When health premiums and your budget collide

When low premiums are a must it’s hard to beat the federal employee health benefits program. Feds and retirees are eligible for the same plans and premiums, and most have 20 or more choices.

Uncle Sam pays the lion’s share of the premium and there are some bargains in the program, if you know where to look. Monday is the last day workers and retirees can pick their 2019 health plan. If you do nothing, which is what 94 percent of all enrollees do, you will remain in your 2018 health plan.

In her question about “best buys” in the Federal Employees Health Benefits Program, Yolanda L., a retiree, didn’t mince words.

“I’m having a hard time choosing an insurance plan … can’t afford a high monthly premium!” she said.

Premiums are important if you are on a limited budget. But so is the plans’ catastrophic coverage (the limit on the amount you will have to pay out of pocket if you have a serious accident or major illness in 2019). Equally important, be sure your doctor(s) will be in the network of the plan(s) you are considering.

Fortunately for people looking for good coverage at a low premium there are a lot of choices among the local HMOs and national fee-for-service plans. Here are some of them from the Consumers’ Checkbook Guide to Health Plans for Federal Employees:

Washington, D.C.-area plans
Name Premium limit to you
CareFirst HDHP $1,550 $5,040
Kaiser-Std $1,570 $4,540
Kaiser Basic $1,260 $4,840
$1,490 $5,290
Fee-for-service plans
NALC CDHP $1,420 $7,580
GEHA HDHP $1,530 $6,020
APWU CDHP $1,790 $6,230
MHBP HDHP $1,690 $7,170
Aetna Direct CDHP $1,670 $7,270

While those are the lowest premium plans remember that many that cost more don’t cost THAT much more. For instance the annual self-only premium next year for Blue Cross basic is $1,920 while its catastrophic limit to you would be $6,780. The GEHA standard premium is $1,530 and its limit to you would be $7,520.

The maximum self-only premium next year is $7,470 for the Aetna Open access high option, while the SAMBA high option plan has the highest limit to you of $9,330.

So it does pay to shop and listen to the wisdom of the crowd, which is what we will be doing today at 10 a.m. EDT on our Your Turn radio show. My guest is Walton Francis, who will answer email questions from listeners. Send any more before showtime to mcausey@federalnewsnetwork.com. Listen at www.federalnewsnetwork.com or on 1500 AM in the Washington, D.C. area.

Nearly Useless Factoid

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