Everything you need to know about Open Season

Friday - 10/29/2010, 12:05pm EDT

Walton Francis, editor, Checkbook Guide to Health Plans for Federal Employees

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November 1, 2010 -- Open Season begins next Monday and ends December 13. For Your Benefit hosts Bob Leins and Tammy Flanagan discussed available health plans with Walton Francis, Editor of the Checkbook Guide to Health Plans for Federal Employees.

Francis said by following recommendations in the guidebook, a fed can save as much as $1-2,000 a year in health care costs.

FEHP premiums will rise on average of 7 percent in 2011. Francis said overall plans are getting better and this year there are only "minor adjustments."

High-deductible plans
A high-deductible plan allows you to open a health care savings account, which may be $2-3,000 in the bank, Francis said. The deductible for this plan is $5,000 for self-only and $10,000 for family. Once you reach the deductible, the regular plan kicks in, Francis said.

"If you do nothing but have an annual physical, which is free, you'll wind up the year with a couple thousand dollars," Francis said.

Money left in the savings account can also fund long-term care, Francis said.

Enrollment in these high-deductible plans has more than doubled in recent years. Two years ago, there were 35,000 enrollees; last spring there were 75,000, Francis said.

The high-deductible plans are best suited for nearly everyone.

"I find them highest rated in every group we cover, even, for example, retirees with Medicare," Francis said. He added that the only group that would not benefit from a high-deductible plan is someone with "high, predictable, steady expenses every year."

Is Medicare Part B right for you?
The advantage of enrolling in Part B is that you can go out of network and you will be covered for 100 percent of your medical and hospital costs. Medicare will pay 80 percent of health costs and your health plan covers the remaining 20 percent.

"You have total flexbility," Francis said. "If that's really important for you, that's a big argument for paying that extra Part B premium."

Flanagan said Blue Cross Blue Shield standard plan waives the deductible and co-insurance of enrollees of Part B.

"This eliminates most of your out-of-pocket except for prescription, dental and vision," Flanagan said.

Blue Cross Blue Shield's Basic Plan does not have this deal for people enrolled in Part B, but the basic plan is still a good deal if your regular physician is in-network, Francis said.

Other good options for people with Medicare Parts A and B are:

  • GEHA standard plan
  • Foreign service
  • Compass Rose
  • American Postal Workers (You don't have to be a postal worker to be in the plan, Francis said.)

Do you need Medicare Part D?
For prescription drug coverage, a good option is to enroll in Part D and the GEHA standard plan, which pays 50 percent, Francis said.

"Part D pays most of the prescription and GEHA pays the rest," Francis said.

Feds can also go to the Medicare Plan Finder, which rates the best plans for you.