High-priced health plans ailing

Wednesday - 11/2/2011, 2:03am EDT

For decades, federal workers (and especially retirees) had a reputation for howling loudly when their health premiums went up but not doing anything constructive, like changing to a plan with lower premiums.

Experts said that for a long time only a handful of workers (sometimes as few as 6 percent of the eligibles) changed plans each year. Statistics showed that retirees were even less likely to change, staying with the same plan year-after-year because they were afraid to try a new provider. But that appears to be changing.

The Federal Times reports that since 2007, nearly 300,000 people (active and retired feds) have left the three most popular plans. But many are simply switching options, not brands. The newspaper said that the Blue Cross-Blue Shield standard option has lost 10 percent of its enrollees over the last several years, but the Blue Cross basic plan (lower premiums, similar benefits) has picked up customers.

Because medical inflation is usually much higher than the overall rise in the cost of living, retirees have often been hit with much higher premiums at a time when they were getting small (or no) cost-of-living adjustments. This time, things are slightly different. Retirees — for the first time in two years — will be getting a cost-of-living adjustment in January. It will be worth 3.6 percent for CSRS retirees and 2.6 percent for FERS retirees who are 62 or older. CSRS Offset employees will get 3.6 percent too.

The health insurance open season runs from Nov. 14 through Dec. 12. Feds in many areas (like Washington) have 25 or more options. Nobody can be turned down because of age, health or preexisting medical condition. Premiums for retirees and workers are the same in the same plans.

Premiums in the federal health program went up an "average" of 7.4 percent this year. But that "average" increase will be only 3.8 percent in 2012. A couple are even cutting premiums with no significant changes in benefits. Others will have dramatic increases. It definitely will pay you to shop around.

Today at 10:00 a.m. on our Your Turn show, we've got a double header lined up. Benefits expert John Elliott and Federal Times staff writer Stephen Losey will talk about the insurance choices facing feds and retirees, the continuing problems with the USAJobs website, and what feds planning to retire this year need to be doing right now. We'll also look at some of the things — an extended pay freeze and reduced retirement benefits — that the Congressional supercommittee may recommend. That's 10 a.m. to 11 a.m. EST.

Listen if you can (1500 AM or online), and if you have questions email them to me at mcausey@federalnewsradio.com or call in during the show at (202) 465-3080. The show will be archived here.

To reach me, mcausey@federalnewsradio.com


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By Jack Moore
Federal News Radio

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