Treading water: Feds need pay raise to pay 2019 health premiums

Anybody open to some good news for a change? Can you handle it? Here goes:

Health insurance premiums for some federal and postal workers and retirees are going up next year, but not very much. In most cases the average is under 1.5 percent, which is the smallest increase in six years. Many people will actually pay less for coverage in 2019 than they are paying this year. That’s for sure, and it’s a very big deal.

Congress is currently considering a 1.9 percent pay raise for federal workers in January. That’s also a big deal, but not a sure thing.

Do the math: X-Y = you lose — unless there is a pay raise.

So what are the odds? The 2019 health plan premiums are a done deal; the Office of Personnel Management made them official. The pay raise is another issue.

President Donald Trump said no to any January 2019 raise. Instead he wants a new compensation system that would make it easier for agencies to better reward high performers. The Senate is on board with a 1.9 percent pay raise.

A House package that includes funds for Defense, Health and Human Services and the Department of Education contains language authorizing a 1.9 percent raise.

Some Congress watchers say there is a good chance the Senate, thanks to an overwhelming and bipartisan pro-pay raise vote, will prevail in conference. If that happens and non-postal workers get a raise it will be a big help, and not cause workers to take a hit in take-home pay.

Or, pick a less costly health plan during the Nov. 12 through Dec. 10 federal benefits open season. During that open season workers can also enroll in one of the dental plans. Their premiums are going up an average of 1.2 percent while there will be an overall average decrease of 2.8 percent in the vision plans.

The federal government will continue to pay roughly 70 percent of the total premium for workers, retirees and their survivors and about 75 percent for postal workers.

So what does that look like in reality? Take a look at Blue Cross Blue Shield, which has about 60 percent of all participants in the federal program.

This year the Blues’ standard self-only premium for employees-retirees is $113.16 biweekly for the self-only plan; $271.95 for self and family plan and $257.81 for the standard self-plus one. Next year the premiums will be $112.23 for self only; $268.21 for self and family and $256.54 for self plus one.

Not bad at all.

OPM is under direction of Congress to hold health premium increases to a minimum. This year OPM has excelled, negotiating actual decreases in premiums which are rare indeed.

The Blue Cross Blue Shield basic self-only premium in 2019 will be $73.72 , the self plus family premium will be 177.24 and the self plus one premium will go to $170.57. In all three plans the biweekly premium will drop from what enrollees are paying today.

Many other health plans will either have a small decrease in premiums or a relatively small increase. Again 2019 will be a good year for folks in the nation’s largest employer-sponsored health plan.

Nearly Useless Factoid

By Amelia Brust

The first stapler was made for King Louis XV of France in the 1700s. The handmade staples were inscribed with royal insignia.

Source: Boston Magazine

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