Hate-your-mate health tip

Thursday - 12/8/2011, 2:00am EST

Here's a tip on how to save a bundle on health insurance premiums. It helps if you are never sick, live in an accident-free, germ-free environment (like a bubble inside Fort Knox), come from a family of long livers (that is people who go on, and on) and don't have any risky hobbies, habits or vices.

Also, it helps if you hate your mate. Or if you two are more like roommates. In fact, that's the key.

Many feds and retirees save on health premiums by purchasing a self-only plan within the FEHBP. They let their private-sector spouse use their own insurance, which may be cheaper than the federal plans. The plan is to take out an FEHBP family plan at the time of retirement so the private-sector spouse (whose plan probably ends at retirement) can be fully covered for life. The problem is what happens if the self-only fed dies first. Before he or she can put the spouse on a family plan? The answer is that the spouse is out in the cold. He or she can't apply for coverage after you've gone.

That's the kind of thing you can learn by checking out Checkbook Guide to Health Plans. The book is available in many D.C.-area stores. There is also an on-line version (which many people prefer) and a number of federal agencies have subscribed to it for their employees. Or you can do it yourself.

Checkbook editor Walton Francis was our guest yesterday on our Your Turn radio show. He answered a laundry list of questions on the health insurance hunting season which ends Monday. The show is archived and you can listen, anytime, by clicking here.

Here are some high points from the show:

  • Check the catastrophic limit (the maximum amount you will have to pay out of pocket) of any plan you are considering. Coverage for a worst-case scenario is the reason you buy insurance.

  • Make sure you understand the five-year rule. That is that you must have FEHBP coverage (in any plan or plans) in order to take your health insurance into retirement.

  • Consider establishing a Flexible Spending Account. It will give you a tax break and give you money to cover services that your health insurance doesn't.

  • Don't wait until you plan to retire to take out a family plan. If you have self-only coverage and die your spouse cannot get FEHBP coverage.

  • Be sure your favorite doctor or doctors are part of your plan's PPO network. Ask someone in their office which FEHBP plans they will accept next year.


NEARLY USELESS FACTOID

By Jack Moore

Congress has a penchant for ridiculously long titles for legislation abbreviated by a neat acronym.

Case in point: An online privacy bill before Congress, the Stop Online Privacy Act, or SOPA, is the successor to previous bills Preventing Real Online Threats to Economic Creativity and Theft of Intellectual Property — or PROTECT-IP — Act and the Enforcing and Protecting American Rights Against Sites Intent on Theft and Exploitation — E-PARASITE — Act, The Economist notes on its language blog. To find a full list of acronym-laden bill titles, check out the Library of Congress website, THOMAS — short for The House Open Multimedia Access System.


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