Your other health plan option - failure

Wednesday - 11/21/2012, 2:00am EST

And now, for something completely different:

Self-improvement, exercise and proper diet are fine. Up to a point. Also, a little bit boring.

Dr. Oz tells us what to eat or rub on our bodies, or not to stick up our noses. He tells us about the foods and little known minerals that will make us healthier and happier. And more beautiful. Once that fails, we change channels. We can switch to Dr. Phil, who tells us what we are doing wrong, how mean and stupid it makes us and how we can correct it.

Boring...

What's needed, in my humble opinion, is a guideline to failure. A 180-degree change. From self-help to self-abuse. A blueprint mandating us to do as little as we like, including nothing, to get by. And a good time to start is now. The middle of the federal health-insurance hunting season. Even the dimmest bulb knows that premiums are going up next year, while salaries aren't. Next year will be the third year in a row when white-collar federal pay has been frozen and the third year in a row when health premiums (and maybe taxes too) will be going up.

Failure is guaranteed. If you are not completely satisfied, you pay nothing except shipping and handling.

During these annual health-insurance hunting seasons (this one ends Dec. 10), most people are probably aware that they could do better — maybe save some money — by switching to another comparable health plan. In some cases, the savings could be as much as $2,000. Not chump change, but not the lotto jackpot either.

Although the government spends a ton of money each year helping workers and retirees navigate the Open Season, only a small number of workers and almost no retirees shop and actually change plans. Some people have been in the same plan for 20 or 30 years. They aren't necessarily happy with it, and it may not be the best deal anymore. But it is the devil they know. Most actively do nothing during the Open Season.

So for a change — and all in fun — we are going to be proactive about health-plan inertia. If you want to pay higher premiums, higher copayments and lose access to your favorite doctor, we can help with that. We can help you make sure you make the wrong decision. Hearing what not to do may be a positive thing for some reluctant shoppers. The idea is to do whatever it takes to help you pick the best deal.

Today at 10 a.m., Walton Francis, editor of Checkbook's Guide to 2013 Health Plans, will be our guest on our Your Turn radio show. For the past 30 years, he has helped active and retired feds find the best buy for themselves and their families. We use his guide for a series of Open Season columns about best buys for you. He tells people how to make the best choices, what to look for and things they should consider when shopping. Although not a doctor, like Phil or Oz, he has two masters degrees (Yale and Harvard) and knows the federal health program like nobody else.

He says people can not only save money in premiums and out of pocket costs, but also explains how they can buildup tax-free savings accounts financed by the health plan itself. They are like a Roth IRA where somebody else supplies the money and all you do is cash out. Tax free.

You would think this option, which Francis describes as a "Roth IRA on steroids," would be more popular with people, especially younger, healthier employees. But it is one of the choices many people miss by not shopping around. He will also talk about ways to reduce premiums and out-of-pocket costs. So if you hate shopping, listen in. And tell a friend.

Fiscal cliff, buyouts, postal losses

Also on Your Turn today, Federal Times senior writer Sean Reilly will talk about the impact of sequestration on the federal workforce, the Postal Service's latest ($15.9 billion) loss and the status of buyouts and health insurance for FEMA part- timers.

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.


NEARLY USELESS FACTOID