Health premiums - Some agencies provide missing link

Monday - 11/19/2012, 2:00am EST

What do the National Treasury Employees Union and the Defense Intelligence Agency have in common?

What's the link between the Nuclear Regulatory Commission and the Interior Department's Office of Hearings and Appeals?

What's the bond between the Office of Personnel Management, the National Science Foundation and the Federal Reserve Board? Or the American Foreign Service Association, the Congressional Budget Office, the Justice Department and the Export-Import Bank.

Other than being paid by the same source, and serving the same government, not much!

The common link between all of the above is that they — and about 40 other agencies, departments or components — provide free access (to employees or members) to a website that helps federal workers navigate through the ongoing health insurance and benefits open season. Between now and Dec. 10, workers, retirees and, in some cases, ex-spouses must pick their 2013 health plan.

The website is Checkbook's Guide to Health Plans for Federal Employees. For more than 30 years, it's advised federal and postal workers and retirees of the best-buys whether they are single, married, old or young, active or retired. Picking the best health plan is always important. But with feds about to enter their third year in the pay-raise deep freeze, getting it right is even more important.

Check with your HR office to see if your agency subscribes for you. If not, you can buy the Guide at many area book stores and drug stores ($9.95), or subscribe to the online version yourself by clicking here.

For most people the important things to look for are:

  1. Good catastrophic coverage. A plan that will limit your out-of-pocket costs if you are hit by a life-threatening illness, or a bus or subway. Medical bills are one of the leading causes of bankruptcy, but with many of the FEHBP plans available, most people are well protected in a worst-case situation.

  2. Make sure that your favorite doctor is part of the health plan's network. Otherwise, you will have the choice of either paying much higher fees for office visits and treatment, or finding yourself a new doctor or doctors.

  3. Don't pick a health plan based on premiums alone. The lowest-premium plan may wind up costing you a lot more than you thought because of what it doesn't cover. By the same token, the most expensive one isn't necessarily the best just because it costs more.
Between now and the end of open season, we'll have a series of columns that will give you best-buy options. Walton Francis, editor of the Checkbook's Guide will be my guest each Wednesday on our Your Turn radio show. You can email or call in at 202-465-3080 (showtime is 10 a.m. Wednesdays) with questions or comments. Francis was on the show last week and you can hear that archived report by clicking here.

We'll also be consulting with David Snell, director of retirement services for the National Active and Retired Federal Employees. Snell was our guest a few weeks back, and you can listen to that show anytime by clicking here.

Coming up, columns on best-buys for singles, married couples, people over and under age 55, retirees and for people (like ex-spouses) who are covered by the federal health program but have to pay the entire premium.


NEARLY USELESS FACTOID

By Jack Moore

People are more likely to spend "crisp, new paper before old, dirty and crumpled bills," according to a new study, UPI reports. One of the researchers cited the "ick factor."


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