Options: Feds have plenty of them

Thursday - 8/21/2014, 2:00am EDT

The federal government has an excellent retirement program and benefits package. They come with the job. But it also offers workers (and sometimes retirees) a wide but lesser known variety of optional benefits. They cover everything from your teeth to your eyeballs, extending down to your handbag and wallet.

Yet, as good as some of these program are, many feds either ignore them or think they don't need them. In some cases they are right. In others, they may be missing a good thing. So what are the optional programs, and how do they rank in popularity?

The benefit programs include the Thrift Savings Plan (TSP), Uncle Sam's generous in-house 401(k) option; tax-saving flexible spending accounts (FSAs); a variety of long-term care programs (LTC), as well as specific insurance on your health (eyes and teeth) and your life itself. So which are the most, and least, popular with workers?

Can you believe that the TSP covers a higher percentage of the federal workforce than the next most popular option, the Federal Employee Health Benefits Program? According to Office of Personnel Management data, 94.2 percent of all those eligible are enrolled in the TSP, while 82 percent are in the FEHBP. Those outside of the federal cradle-to-grave program (for which the government pays the lion's share of the premium) either are covered by a spouse's nonfederal health plan or they don't have any kind of health insurance.

FEGLI, the federal group life insurance plan, is third most popular with employees, with 73.1 percent having some coverage. That's followed by the dental (48.5 percent) and vision (37.5 percent) plans. A little more than 23 percent of workers are setting aside money for Flexible Spending Accounts. FSAs are funded with pre-tax dollars that can be used to cover a variety of medical services and drugs not covered by regular health insurance. The Obama administration reduced the amount of money people could put into an FSA from $5,000 to $2,500. But many still find it the best way to lessen or eliminate out-of-pocket costs.

Last, but not least, in popularity among federal and postal workers is the government-backed Long Term Care insurance program. Only 6.7 percent have it through the government program. And that's too bad. Lots of people are going to need LTC in their lifetimes, and it is very costly. So costly, in fact, that the number of companies offering LTC coverage has shrunk dramatically over the years. While most still honor policies written years ago, they aren't accepting any new clients. That should be a tipoff that the government program is worth checking out.

The open enrollment period when you can sign up, or renew, many of these benefits is coming up. This year, it runs from Nov. 10 to Dec. 8. Health insurance — and premiums — will get the most attention, but there are some others that federal and postal workers should check out. Getting the right coverage could save you, and in the case of LTC, your family, a lot of money.


NEARLY USELESS FACTOID:

By Michael O'Connell

The oldest animal ever recorded — an ocean quahog clam called Ming — died in 2006 at the age of 507. It was accidentally killed when scientists dredged it up and froze it for transportation to a lab as part of research into climate change.

Source: National Geographic.


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