Your 2009 Survival Kit

Monday - 11/17/2008, 4:00am EST

What are the odds that you and family will get through 2009 without a financially catastrophic illness or accident?

That's at the top of the list when it comes to picking your health plan during the open season that ends Dec. 8th.

For the average individual, there's a five percent chance your medical bills will exceed $25,000. Make that 10 percent for a family of three, and then 15 percent for a family of five. Those numbers come from Walton Francis. He's the author of CHECKBOOK's Guide To Health Plans.

One of the primary things to look for in a health plan is its catastrophic-coverage. That is how much you would have to pay out of pocket next year before most other bills were covered. That limit can range from a low of around $6,000 to a high of $14,000. It pays to shop around.

Francis says that all of the plans in the federal employee health benefits program (FEHBP) are good, but some fit your needs better. For example, is your doctor (or doctors) in their network? Do you like the freedom of a nationwide plan, or do you prefer HMOs with their emphasis on preventive /managed care?

Finally, can you afford the premiums? Next year, the premium for the very popular Blue Cross-Blue Shield standard option (which covers about 40 percent of the FEHBP population) will go up just over 13 percent. What to do? Francis says you can switch to the BC-BS Basic Option which has a lower premium and similar benefits. He also suggests people check out the APWU, Mail Handlers and GEHA plans, as well as HMOs like Aetna, United, Kaiser, Coventry and CareFirst.

Ask The Master

Wednesday at 10 a.m. EST, Walt Francis will be our guest on the Your Turn with Mike Causey radio show. And this one's for you!

Listen if you can (either at AM 1500 in the Washington area) or at www.federalnewsradio.com on the internet. Call in if you have a question, or e-mail the question to me (mcausey@federalnewsradio.com) and I'll pass it on to him. You can listen live or, if your agency blocks streaming, it will be archived so you can listen at home.

Between now and the Dec. 8 deadline we'll have a series of columns listing the "best buys" for singles, couples, families with kids, and retirees with and without Medicare. And a look at fee-for-service plans vs. HMOs.

Meantime, jump start your health plan shopping by listening in Wednesday at 10 a.m. EST. It's an hour that could save you thousands of dollars!

Nearly Useless Factoid
(but not as useless as usual.)

Today is "Military Appreciation Monday" at Golden Corral restaurants. From 5 pm to 9pm, they'll be offering a free "thank you" buffet and beverage "to any person who has ever served in the United States Military." To find the restaurant near you, go to http://www.goldencorral.com, then enter your zip code in the search box. FREE STEAK!

To reach me: mcausey@federalnewsradio.com