Each year in early October the 8 million people in the Federal Employee Health Benefits Program find out what premiums they will be paying in the new year — usually higher. Unless they go through the tedious process checking out the premiums and benefits offered in similar plans.
The FEHBP is the largest “company” plan in the nation. It covers top elected and appointed political officials, CIA staffers, DEA agents, astronauts, CIA staffers and people who patrol the border or national parks on horses. It also covers the people who predict your weather, deliver your mail and keep food and drugs safe. And it covers retired feds, their spouses some adult children and ex-spouses with court orders.
Many believe it was the model for the Affordable Care Act, or Obamacare. Feds usually get the news of premiums increases before Congress and the White House decide if workers will get a January pay raise, and if so by how much, and whether it will be a national raise or a city-by-city locality adjustment.
Some people believe they can determine if you are an optimist or pessimist, that your glass is generally either half full or half empty, based on how you react to health premium increases. So which is it? Put on your guinea pig suit for a second and take this not-very-scientific but terribly clever test:
Question 1: Premiums for nonpostal federal workers and for all retirees in 2020 will be going up an average of 5.6%. That’s the biggest jump in a long time. This year the average premium went up only 1.3%. It was up 4.0% in 2018, 4.4% in 2017 and 6.4% in 2016.
I’m just glad to have it, and so many choices, too!
Question 2: The government next year will continue to pay between 70%-75% of the total premium. That means it’s overall average will go up 3.2% in 2020.
So your reaction is:
The government payment should be higher. Look who prints the money!
The fact that Uncle Sam pays an average of about 72% of the total premium, or a little more or less, is fantastic. And that share holds year after year as premiums go up.
Question 3: Workers and retirees will continue to have 20-30 plans or options to choose from. Many agencies have purchased the software that will allow people, at the office and on government time, to shop for health insurance using Consumer Checkbook’s guides. It allows people to compare plans and premiums, to see whether the self-plus-one option is best for a couple and to determine if their doctor(s) will be in the network of the plans they are considering. Other agencies will give employees the same option but they must do their shopping after work hours.
So your reaction is:
They pay more than 70%. They buy the software so I don’t have to. Fantastic, thanks Uncle Sam.
We lose again. They call them options, but why do we have so many confusing choices to make? No wonder only about 6% change plans each year.
Plans in the program cannot refuse anyone because of age, job status (active or retired) or because of a pre-existing condition. Nobody likes to pay more for anything. But is it possible that even with the 5.6% average, which in some cases means $3 or $4 more every two weeks, that the FEHBP isn’t the ripoff many think it is?
Dave MacPherson was the first Disneyland customer when he was a 22-year-old college student in 1955. when he became the first Disneyland customer ever — not including celebrities and Disney family members who had advanced access. He got in line at 2 a.m. on opening day. He also received a lifetime pass and now goes every year.