Best buys for retirees in Open Season

Tuesday - 12/7/2010, 4:00am EST

For young, healthy federal workers picking the right health plan is important. For older workers and retirees picking the right plan is essential. In some cases a financially make-or-break decision. And it's one you must make by Dec. 13 whether you are 19 or 106.

Failure to pick a new plan by next Monday's deadline means you will continue with your current insurance. That may be a okay. Unless it's one of those plans that have reduced benefits and/or are going up 30 percent. In which case, maybe you should check again...

According to health insurance expert Walton Francis the average 25 year old next year will have $2,000 in medical expenses. But the average 65 year old's medical tab will more likely be $15,000. Francis is the editor of Checkbook's Guide to Health Plans for Federal Employees & Annuitants, as found at checkbook.org.

Checkbook bases its "best buy" checklist on total costs. That is, premiums and likely out-of-pocket costs to you next year. If you are under age 55, Checkbook estimates that there is a 4 percent chance you will have total medical bills of $25,000. But if you are 65 or older the odds of a $25,000 year jump to 12 percent. Double those numbers if you are a family of two.

Most federal retirees are in one of the Blue Cross-Blue Shield plans. Some have been there 20 or more years. While it is an excellent plan, according to Checkbook, some of its options are better (in many if not most cases) than others. For example the "average" costs for a retiree family (65 or older) of two next year in Blue Cross standard option (premiums and out of pocket costs) will be $10,060. If you have a tough medical year it could be as much as $12,000. But the Blue Cross basic plan, with similar benefits, would cover you for a total of $8,340 on average, including premiums and out of pocket costs.

So what are the best buys for retirees (with or without Medicare)? Here's how Checkbook ranks them:

    Health Maintenance Organizations: Kaiser standard, Kaiser high option, MD-IPA, Aetna Open access-Basic; Coventry high option, CareFirst Blue Choice, Coventry Standard and Aetna Open Access high option.

    Consumer-Driven/High Deductible Plans: APWU CDHP, Aetna CDHP, Aetna HDPH, GEHA HDHP, Mail Handlders HDHP and Coventry HDHP.

    National Plans (using preferred providers): Foreign Service, Blue Cross basic, APWU high option, GEHA standard, Compass Rose, Mail Handlers-Value, SAMBA standard, GEHA high option, NALC, Rural Carrier, Blue Cross standard , Mail Handlers Standard and SAMBA high option.

One of the many excellent features of the Federal Employee Health Benefits Program is that is a lifetime deal. Unlike some private sector plans, federal retirees (and their spouses or survivors) continue full coverage at the same premiums charged young, healthy workers in the same plans. They are not subject to pre-existing condition rules.

Need Personal Advice? Tomorrow at 10 a.m. here on www.federalnewsradio.com, David Snell will be our guest on our Your Turn with Mike Causey radio show. He's a former fed, an expert in the FEHBP, who now works for the National Active and Retired Federal Employees. He'll talk about picking the best plan whether you are a 22 year old new hire, a 60 year old veteran of federal service or an 80 year old retiree. You can listen live on the internet or, if you are in the Washington metro area, on WFED 1500 AM. If you have questions for him, send them to me at mcausey@federalnewsradio.com or call in during the show. That call in number (for 10am Wednesday) is 202.465.3080.

Lest We Forget

Sixty nine years ago today Pearl Harbor was attacked. We declared war on Japan and a week later Germany declared war on us. The rest, as they say, is history. My father, four uncles and lots of men (and women) I've met since were in the war. From New Guinea to Omaha Beach (day 2). All of the World War II vets I know, save one, are gone now. Since that day when he was 19, he has walked with a bad limp after a suicide plane crashed into his ship. I met him when, after the GI bill, he became the TV critic of The Washington Post.

We are losing our WWII vets at the rate of about 1,000 a day. That can't be stopped. But a lot of us could help the vets, by knowing what they did and passing it on to our kids and grandchildren. If you want to get more involved, click here to learn about honorflight.org.