Health insurance Open Season means 'homework' for feds

Thursday - 10/13/2011, 10:04am EDT

Ann Vanderslice, federal benefits specialist

Download mp3

By Jack Moore
Federal News Radio

Open Season — when federal employees are free to choose new federal health plans — is fast approaching.

But many feds are still scratching their heads over what to do about rising premiums in the Federal Employee Health Benefits Program.

On average, feds will pay 3.8 percent more, but some premiums are actually falling.

Federal benefits specialist Ann Vanderslice joined the Federal Drive with Tom Temin and Amy Morris to discuss tips for making the best insurance choices.

Going into Open Season, which begins Nov. 14, federal employees should first be aware no health plan is one-size-fits-all, she said.

"It always depends on the individual situation because, first and foremost, it's based on their own health and the health of their family members that they want to have covered under their plan," Vanderslice said. "so, that's the No. 1 issue."

Second, feds should be prepared to do some work a little to determine the best plan for them.

"There are lots of tips we can use but they involve work on the employee's part," she explained. "They don't just happen."

In other words, Open Season means homework for federal employees.

Even though federal workers are presented with an array of insurance choices, most federal employees sit pat.

And this year probably won't be that different — meaning only about 8 percent of them will actually make the switch to another plan.

"It's easy to not to anything during Open Season and continue that same plan because you know how it works," she said.

While the Office of Personnel Management publishes state-by-state guides to all available federal health plans, for most feds the thought of reading through hundreds of pages of insurance documents is daunting.

"I always tell people that it's like there's a collective groan throughout the agency when the outlines of coverage are delivered each and every year," Vanderslice said

But federal employees should instead think of Open Season as an opportunity, she added.

Federal employees are able to choose from a range of plans every year without regard to preexisting conditions.

"What a great benefit that is, she said. "If you can get your brain thinking that way, you can really take advantage of that opportunity."