Inertia + FEHBP = Financial Problems

Tuesday - 12/6/2011, 2:00am EST

Half of the people covered by the federal health program (4 million current spouses, ex-spouses, dependent children and some grandchildren) probably don't know anything about the plan they are in. Including the name of the plan, how much the premiums are, and what it does and doesn't cover.

For that matter only a relatively small number of people switch plans each year despite premium hikes — generally moderate for 2012 — or benefit changes. Some people are surprised to learn that their favorite doctor may have left their plan. Or that he or she may be in the network of a plan with much lower premiums.

The good news is that all of the plans are good. The not-so-good news is that some of them simply cost too much (in premiums) or make you pay staggering amounts of money out of pocket in the event of a major medical disaster.

Inertia can be expensive.

Yet if any of those dependents — like the primary policy-holder — are hit with a major illness or have a serious accident next year, the health plan chosen for them may be critical. In fact, picking your FEHBP plan (the Open Season ends next Monday) could be the most important financial decision you will ever make. At least until this time next year.

Dependents aren't alone in lack of knowledge about their health plans. Many federal workers and retirees also don't know much about them. Some haven't checked out their plan in years. Many are surprised to learn that the government pays the lion's share of the premium (about 73 percent), that they have 20-25 choices, that they can't be turned down for any reason and that to continue health coverage into retirement, they must have health insurance (any of the FEHBP plans) for the five years prior to retirement. Many also don't know that if they die and have a self-only plan, their surviving spouse will NOT be able to apply for FEHBP coverage.

Over the past couple of weeks we've had a series of columns about the FEHBP, your options and the importance of catastrophic coverage.

Walton Francis, author of the Checkbook's Guide to Federal Health Plans, and David Snell, from the National Active and Retired Federal Employees, helped and continue to help us help you. Francis will be on our radio show, Your Turn, tomorrow to answer questions. Call in if you like (that's Wednesday, 10 a.m. EST) at 202.465.3080. Or you can e-mail questions to me at mcausey@federalnewsradio.com.

Meantime, here's about 20 minutes worth of reading that could save you a lot of grief and a lot of money. In fact you could wind up with a healthy savings account thanks to your HD health plan. Check it out:


NEARLY USELESS FACTOID

By Jack Moore

A psychiatrist has called for the Irish government to add lithium — often prescribed as a mood stabilizer — to the public water supply to lower the rates of depression and suicide, according to an Irish Times report. The doctor said the population wouldn't become "hooked" on the drug because the doses would be so small.


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