Mixed-marriage money savers

Thursday - 12/1/2011, 2:00am EST

In government circles, a mixed marriage can mean that one spouse is a federal civil servant and the other works in the private sector. Or that the husband is a retired fed while the wife is still working in her government job.

Other than giving them things to talk about — or not — does it make any difference who works where? For example:

He works for the General Services Administration and his wife works for the Postal Service. Does it matter which one supplies the family's federal health plan?

Only if you like to save money.

Although white collar workers at Defense, Justice, IRS and other agencies have the same health plan options as Postal Service employees, the folks who deliver the mail pay a lot less for the same coverage. That's because of their union contracts. How much less?

For the Kaiser standard HMO, with the lowest premiums in the D.C. area, nonpostal feds and retirees pay $1,080 per year in premiums. But in the same plan, thanks to their contract, postal workers pay only $710. The federal government pays about 70 percent of the average FEHBP plan, while the Postal Service pays an even greater chunk of the total premium for its workers.

A couple with the popular Blue Cross basic family plan will pay $3,430 in premiums next year if they work for most federal agencies. But that same couple would pay only $2,260 if one was a postal worker and the family got coverage through him or her.

Retired vs. Still Working

There is another federal case when it pays for couples to shop around for the best deal. Like when one is retired and the other is still working. So who should supply the insurance? Short answer, the one who is still working.

Active-duty feds (and Postal workers) can take advantage of what is known as "premium conversion." That means you pay your health premiums in pre-tax dollars saving on your taxes.

But the premium conversion option is not available to retirees — federal or private sector. Once you retire, you lose it.

Remember the health insurance open season ends Dec. 12. On yesterday's Your Turn radio show health insurance expert Walton Francis answered a laundry list of questions from listeners and readers. The show is archived so you can listen anytime by clicking here.


NEARLY USELESS FACTOID

By Jack Moore

Forget Joan Rivers. In Elizabethan England, there were true fashion police — or at least fashion laws. The so-called sumptuary laws restricted extravagant dress in order to make the distinctions in social class clearer. This is where the the association of purple with royalty really got rolling. And according to Elizabethan.org, young men who visited London had to make sure their swords were of the proper length. If they were too long — the showoffs! — they would be broken off.


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