Feds shopping online on the job

Friday - 11/22/2013, 2:00am EST

Dozens of federal agencies from the Defense Department to parts of Interior, Justice, Health and Human Services including folks at the Congressional Budget Office are offering employees free time to shop at the office. But before you organize a March on Washington or join a tax protest group, read on...

The agencies are actually saving taxpayer money, in some instances lots of money, by subscribing to an online service that helps workers pick the best (and lowest-cost) health plan for 2014.

How?

The government (which means you) pays an average of 70 percent of the total premium for federal workers and retirees and up to 80 percent of the premium tab for postal workers. The FEHBP is a mega-billion dollar program. It covers more than 8 million people. That's a lot of people — and a lot of premium dollars.

The Federal Employee Health Benefits Program Open Season runs through Dec. 9. Workers are not impacted by the Affordable Care Act/Obamacare. But their premiums are going up an average of 4.4 percent next year and most workers and retirees stay in the same plan year after year, even if its premiums rise more than other plans in the giant program.

After three years in a pay freeze, many workers are looking for ways to save money with insurance. But comparing plans and options (D.C.-area feds are eligible for more than 20 plans) isn't easy. But it has been made easier through the online version of Consumers' Checkbook's Guide to 2014 Federal Health plans. Checkbook's hard-cover magazine and online version each sell for $9.95. But at a special-to-the-government discount rate, agencies can purchase the online option for their employees for 20 cents per worker. If even a relatively small number switch to a less costly plan, that will save their agency, which pays most of their premiums, a lot of money.

Subscribers range from places like the National Science Foundation to the Government Printing Office, Federal Reserve Board down to the DC Prenatal Services. Employees of the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan can shop online, as can insurance hunters at the Missile Defense Agency, Export-Import Bank and the National Endowment for the Arts. The Office of Personnel Management offers the service to its employees, and the National Treasury Employees Union bought it for their members.

Walton Francis, editor of the Checkbook, is a frequent guest on my Your Turn show during the open season. He's been doing the guidebook for many years and is a much sought-after guest at congressional and union-sponsored health fairs for workers and retirees.

By helping employees pick the best plan, with the lowest premium, the government is being a good boss and a frugal keeper of the purse, too.

The two most popular plans, for example, are Blue Cross standard plan which is No. 1, and the Blue Cross basic plan which is No. 2 with workers and retirees. Although benefits are similar to identical, the premiums in the standard version are almost double those for the basic. If a substantial number of workers and retirees switched to the lower cost version during the open season, the taxpayers, who pick up most of the total premium tab, would be winners.


NEARLY USELESS FACTOID

Compiled by Jack Moore

The three most common sentences appearing in the teenage-vampire book series Twilight are:

  • I sighed.

  • He sighed.

  • I shrugged.

That's according to a textual analysis prepared by Slate.


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