Your new BFF, gym buddy and diet coach!

Thursday - 9/29/2011, 2:05am EDT


Could your good old (or not so good old) federal health plan become more than just a bill payer? Like maybe your new best friend forever. Your gym partner. Your you-go-girl (or boy) exercise enabler?

Short answer: A resounding maybe!

Starting in 2012, nine of the 200-plus plans participating in the Federal Employee Health Benefits Program, will offer affinity deals to their policy-holders. That will include extended affinity benefits for same-sex partners, discount exercise classes and gym memberships.

Blue Cross-Blue Shield, the biggest health plan in the program, will have an affinity deal in which policy-holders can join selected gyms for $25 and pay only $25 per month. At best it is a win-win deal for the gym, you and for BC-BS because insurance companies love people who exercise and take care of themselves. The Blues cover 5 of the 8 million people in the giant federal health program.

Some of the affinity deals that will come with membership in some FEHBP plans will include discounts for exercise classes and token payments for people who complete courses in weight-control, stress management and best-practice nutrition.

The affinity programs begin next year and they are a very, very good deal for companies that hookup with FEHBP providers. Uncle Sam collects (and pays most of) the premiums via payroll deduction or from retirees monthly annuity checks. That's a steady flow of income from a stable workforce that hasn't been (and probably won't be) hit by the recession.

The affinity programs begin in January and they are one of the things feds and retirees should consider — along with premiums and out-of-pocket charges — in selecting their 2012 health plan. The open seasons runs from Nov. 14 through December 12. For more detail on the changes, click here.

During the open season we will have a series of columns listing best buys for singles, couples, families, retirees and people with special health needs. In the meantime, to compare premiums for nonpostal workers and retirees for 2012, click here.

Compared To What? So how does the FEHBP stack up against private-sector plans? Next FEHBP premiums will go up an average of 3.8 percent (That's 3.2 percent for fee-for-service plans and an average of 6.7 percent for HMOs). By comparision CalPERS, the giant California state employee health plans okayed a 4.1 percent average increase.

The lead story in Wednesday's Washington Post was headlined: Health Costs Shift To Workers." It said that premiums paid by private-sector employees continue to climb and that more companies are boosting deductibles and otherwise requiring workers to pay more out of pocket.


NEARLY USELESS FACTOID

By Jack Moore

Which voice is a woman more likely to remember: James Earl Jones or PeeWee Herman? The research says women are more likely to remember a deeper voice. According to researchers, its because "our memory is attuned to things that will ensure our survival and reproductive success," according to LiveScience. And a deeper male voice, evolutionarily, indicates, of all things, better health.


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