Open season ends today: Here’s what you need to know

If you’re a federal or postal worker, or a retiree who’s been shopping around for a new health care plan, then the clock is ticking. Participants in the Federal Employee Health Benefits Program should take note that open season ends this Monday, Dec. 11.

While only about 6 percent of FEHB participants make any changes to their health plans during open season — and tend to be younger, healthier employees looking to find the coverage they need at the lowest price — as many as 20-to-30 percent of enrollees could benefit from switching plans.

On the cost side of the equation, non-postal employees and annuitants enrolled in the FEHB program can expect to pay, on average, 6.1 percent more for their health care premiums in 2018.

In order to prepare federal workers, retirees and their dependents for the end of open season, the Office of Personnel Management on Thursday released a new blog post to help FEHB program participants decide on a health plan for 2018.

The FEHB offers a range of different health plans — from fee-for-service plans, to Health Maintenance Organization (HMOs), to High-Deductible Health Plans (HDHPs). In order to help navigate all those choices, OPM has a “Compare Quality” tool to help FEHB participants decide on a plan that meets their price range and their preferred scope of health coverage.

Users can enter their ZIP code and find out what plans have been highly ranked on a variety of different criteria — like timeliness of prenatal care, for feds looking to grow their families, or hospital readmissions, for those who anticipate an upcoming surgery.

OPM also hosted a Facebook Live event in November, at the beginning of open season, to field questions from participants in the federal health care program.

In addition to OPM’s health care links and resources, Federal News Radio Senior Correspondent Mike Causey has written extensively on some of the health care issues that federal employees face during open season. And on his Your Turn radio show, Causey has done several question-and-answer segments with Walton Francis, editor of Consumers’ Checkbook Guide to Health Plans for Federal Employees,

For some of those resources, check out the following links:

20-minute health plan planner

Medicare Part B: Do you need it?

Is there an HMO in your future?

Your health plan in jeopardy

Reasons not to change health plans: The devil you know

Your partner or your health plan? 

For a more basic primer on what to expect before the Dec. 11 deadline, here’s an at-a-glance rundown of what to expect during open season:

What is open season?

Open season is the time of year when Federal Employee Health Benefit Program participants — federal workers, retirees and their survivors — review and choose their health care coverage for the upcoming calendar year. FEHB participants should review their health care, dental and vision benefits, and also take advantage of pre-tax savings through a Flexible Spending Account (FSA).

When is open season?

Open season begins Monday, Nov. 13 and ends Monday, Dec. 11.

What can you do during open season?

“This is the only time of year … that you can make certain changes to your accounts,” like choosing a new health care, dental or vision plan, said federal benefits expert Connie deLorimier.

Flexible Spending Account participants must review and update their account every year at FSAFeds.com to continue using the account.

“if don’t make any changes to your health insurance, you will be subject to any premium and benefit changes your health plan incurs,” said Amber Rhodes. “So we definitely want you to review your health benefits for the upcoming benefit year.”

Which plans are leaving this year?

One new plan has been added to the FEHB program — Blue Open Access POS in Georgia.

Six health plans are leaving FEHB:

  • New Mexico Blue Preferred HMO,
  • Paramount Health of Ohio,
  • Aetna WholeHealth in Texas, Virginia and Wyoming,
  • United Health Care Benefits of Texas,
  • Innovation Health Plan of Virginia, and
  • Blue Cross-Blue Shield of Illinois HMO.

What do I do if my health plan is going away?

Enrollees in plans that are leaving the FEHB program should receive information from their providers, but they will need to select a new health plan during open season.

What changes are coming to FSAFeds.com?

According to deLorimier, the maximum contribution to Flexible Spending Accounts this year has been expanded to $2,650 — an increase of $50. Some publications may still list the previous maximum of $2,600. “This is such a recent change that we weren’t able to get it in all the publications in time,” she said.

Planning to retire?

Federal employees looking to retire in 2018 should remember that it’s OK to contribute to their FSA. “It will be usable as long as you are an employee,” deLorimier said. Visit FSAFeds.com more detailed questions about your FSA and retirement.

Who can be covered under a self-plus-one plan?

The “one” in a self-plus-one plan must either be a spouse or a child up to age 26.

OPM notes that a child age 26 or over who is incapable of self-support because of a mental or physical disability that existed before age 26 is also an eligible family member.

How to find dental/vision rates?

Benefits and rate information can be found on OPM’S open season website.