Medicare: To B or Not To B that is the question!

Thursday - 10/13/2011, 2:00am EDT

Retired and about to retire federal workers can save a lot of money next year and in the future if they decide not to purchase Medicare Part B. On the other hand if they have or anticipate heavy doctor bills, Part B coverage might be the smart move.

The Medicare question is one reason that for millions of retired and retirement-age feds, the annual federal health insurance open season is a major headache. They must decide if the FEHBP plan they pick for 2012 will provide adequate coverage for them, and their families. Or if they need more in the form of Part B.

In addition to picking the best health plan for themselves and their families, they must decide whether to shell out more money for Medicare Part B coverage. For most people (those with incomes of $85,000 or less) the premium is more than $1,000 a year. Chump change for some people, a lot of money for many others.

The health plans available to federal workers and retirees through the FEHBP program all all good. Some cost more than others. Some cost too much for what you will need. Although they offer good to very good coverage, they probably won't cover all your doctor-related medical costs next year. So what to do?

Reader Gordon Hartwig is one of many who asked the Part-B-Who-Needs-It question. He said:

  • "One thing that has been bothering many future retirees is whether to take Medicare in addition to the FEHBs. It appears to a number of us that the Medicare coverage doesn't really add anything to the Insurance under FEHBs. It costs over $220 a month for a married couple for Medicare currently. It doesn't seem like we are getting anything for that additional $2500/year payment which we know will increase. Has anyone analyzed this? Could you address this issue in one of your columns or direct future retirees to articles or columns discussing this issue."
Short answer, yes. We put the question to David Snell, the director of retirement services for the National Active and Retired Federal Employees. He was the guest yesterday on our Your Turn radio show.

Here, with apologies to William Shakespeare, is what he said:

  • " ...The question of whether to sign up for Medicare Part B (To B or Not to B, That is the Question) is one we get all of the time. We don't tell folks which way to go on this since such a decision involves the individual's medical situation and finances, but we do provide information for the individual to ponder. Medicare Part A covers hospital related costs, and is premium free for most federal workers and retirees once they become age 65. We strongly suggest individuals not decline it.

    Medicare Part B is optional - enrollment is voluntary - and covers physician and medical costs. Part B duplicates benefits covered by plans in the FEHBP with the important exception of prescription drug benefits. We tell folks that just because they woke up at age 65 doesn't mean they need twice as much health insurance as they did the day before. If the Medicare eligible individual is only using their FEHBP plan for routine visits and tests, there doesn't seem to be a good reason to enroll in Medicare Part B and pay an additional $1,384 a year (or more if subject to the means testing) on top of the FEHBP premiums.

    On the other hand, if having as much medical insurance as they can afford helps the person sleep at night - or as you would say a"belt and suspenders kind of guy" , then by all means sign up for the extra coverage. But at the same time, look at think about changing to another FEHBP plan with lower monthly premiums since Medicare is the primary insurer for retirees and the FEHBP serves basically as a supplement to Part B.

    NARFE members can read more at www.narfe.org under "Retirement Benefits."


NEARLY USELESS FACTOID

By Jack Moore

Sick of rude customer service? Give the state of South Carolina a ring. Under a new rule instituted by Gov. Nikki Haley and applicable to cabinet agencies, employees have to answer the phone with this greeting: "It's a great day in South Carolina. How may I help you?" The Economist reports.


MORE FROM FEDERAL NEWS RADIO

A dose of Medicare Part B with your FEHBP?
Is Part B right for you? NARFE's David Snell explains who might benefit from the additional coverage.