FEHBP help (plus a warning!)

Wednesday - 12/7/2011, 2:00am EST

Time's wasting. Cut to the chase. The best health plan for you is, well, it depends.

It depends on your age, health, habits, family status, how cheap (uh, frugal) you are and to a large extent, luck. Nobody can predict what kind of a year (as in health or accidents) 2012 will be.

If you are weary of thinking about health plans, welcome to the club. The open enrollment period is scheduled to end at COB on Monday.

That still gives you time. But not a whole lot.

If you are young, single and a regular exerciser you can get good coverage for around $1,000 to $1,800 per year — (less if you opt for a health savings account) with HMOs like Kaiser, CareFirst Blue Cross, and Aetna Open Access Basic. Or with the CD (consumer-driven) and HD (high-deductible) plans offered by AWPU CDHP, GEHAS HDHP, Aetna HDHP, Coventry HDHP and Mail Handlers HDHP. Walton Francis, author of Checkbook's Guide to Federal Health Plans says the plans can be a very good deal.

Among national plans, Checkbook points Foreign Service plan (open to feds in a variety of agencies with foreign missions), Blue Cross basic, Compass Rose (that's CIA but don't tell!), and the APWU and GEHA standard plans. Premiums for them range from $1,110 to $1,590. They will also be less if you have a health savings account. SAMBA standard option is also highly rated, but it has one of the higher catastrophic limits compared to other plans, according to Checkbook.

Your federal agency may have subscribed to Checkbook's online guide. Check with your HR office. If not you can do it yourself, or get the Checkbook guide (it is available in lots of D.C.-area stores) for $9.95.

Checkbook looks at the whole picture which includes your likely out of pocket costs as well as premiums.

There are also some things to remember.

  • If you are married and have an FEHBP self-only plan and you die, your private sector spouse will not be eligible to get coverage. To guarantee that he/she will be covered, you need a family plan and, if retired, you must provide some kind of survivor benefit.

  • Married federal couples can save a few bucks in premiums if they each get self-only coverage. But that savings can disappear fast if they must satisfy two deductibles during the year.

  • In order to keep your FEHBP coverage in retirement, in most cases you must have been enrolled in one of the plans for the five years prior to retirement. So if you are a fed covered by your private-sector spouse's plan, consider enrolling in one of the FEHBP's low premium plans to satisfy the five-year rule.

  • If you are retired or about to retire never, never drop your FEHBP coverage. Once out, you can't get back in. There are exceptions, however, for people with Tricare or Medicare Advantage coverage. In some cases they can save money by SUSPENDING (but not dropping) their FEHBP coverage. The best source on that is the National Active and Retired Federal Employees.
Today at 10 a.m., Walt Francis of Checkbook will join us at 10 a.m. on our Your Turn Radio show. We'll also be joined by Steve Losey and Sean Reilly of the Federal Times.

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.

SSN Alert!

Remember what your mother told you at the start of the internet age: Don't give anyone your Social Security Number. Never ever. And yet...

A number of federal workers have mistakenly gotten emails from a company offering them help and advice on the 2012 health insurance open season. The emails ask for the employees Social Security number. A number of feds contacted us asking if this was legit. It wouldn't be if it were aimed at feds, but the emails were in fact meant for workers of the company offering the shopping tips.

Walton Francis says giving out your Social Security number is always a bad idea. OPM says this is not part of the FEHBP in any way, shape or form. Don't ever give out your Social Security number (except to Social Security or the IRS). Having your SSN number and birthdate is, in the wrong hands, the equivalent to a direct line to your bank account, credit cards, etc. In this case, however, the request for information was intended only for employees of the company, not any of the feds who got the email.