Open Season crunch time: One week to go

Thursday - 12/2/2010, 1:30pm EST

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December 6, 2010 -- You have one week left to choose a new federal health plan. Open Season ends Dec. 13.

Hosts Bob Leins and John Elliott welcome back Walton Francis, editor of the Checkbook Guide to the Health Plans for Federal Employees. Facing the possibility of a two-year pay freeze, making the right health plan choice can compensate for no pay raise.

Francis recommends feds use the Checkbook Guide as a resource in making their health plan choice. The guide gives "very detailed side-by-side comparisons," Francis said. The guide also rates doctors and hospitals, he said.

To research options, most people can simply refer to the Checkbook Guide ratings and also read the health plan brochures, Francis said. He added that most people can do the necessary research in about an hour.

People who are anticipating a major health event -- for example, surgery or a birth -- should also consult with their doctor, Francis said.

The bottom line: "If you're a federal employee, do your homework now. Don't wait," Francis said.

Medicare
For people 65 and over, Medicare can provide the wrap-around coverage to a federal health plan.

"You don't have to be in high options to enjoy wrap-around coverage," Francis said. Basic or standard options with the Medicare coverage can be a "multi-thousand dollar savings opportunity," Francis said. "it's like ripe fruit hanging from the tree."

"The question is, Is it really worth it to pay two sets of premiums?" Francis said.

Retirees can also suspend enrollment in their federal health plan and pay only the Medicare Part B premium, Francis said.

"The total benefit package won't be quite as good as the federal employee plan, but it's still good," Francis said.

Health savings account is 'almost a no-brainer'
High-deductible plans provide a health savings account, which may be $2-3,000 in the bank, Francis explained in a previous For Your Benefits show. 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.

"It's an IRA on steroid," Francis said. "It's the best savings vehicle that exists." He added that the HSA is "almost a no-brainer."

Click here for more Open Season resources.