Health premiums: It pays to go postal

Wednesday - 12/5/2012, 2:00am EST

They say there is something about a uniform.

That's especially true if the wearer works for the U.S. Postal Service, and especially during the health-insurance hunting season that ends next Monday.

As many people know, if you are in a mixed federal marriage — he's a letter carrier, she's with the IRS — it is important who buys the health insurance. While the choice of plans and the coverage are the same wherever you work, the premiums aren't. There is a big-time difference in what most federal workers pay compared to what all postal workers pay.

If they've done their homework, the spouse with the USPS will purchase the family plan saving them a lot of money. They can save even more by picking the best plan for their known health needs, plus the best plan in case they have a catastrophic illness or accident in 2013.

The federal health program (FEHBP) is the ultimate group plan. Up to a point.

People in the same plans pay the same rates and get the same coverage whether they are young and healthy, middle aged with kids or older and retired. Age, sex, lifestyle and preexisting conditions are not a factor in the federal health plan. The Open Season, when people can pick their plan for the upcoming year, ends Monday.

But some people in the FEHBP pay more than others for the same coverage. Example:

Thanks to their union contracts with the U.S. Postal Service, the annual family premium for Kaiser standard, a top-rated HMO, is $1,720. For Blue Cross-Blue Shields popular basic plan, it is $2,370.

Feds who work for other agencies will pay $2,610 for the Kaiser standard option and $3,600 for the Blue Cross basic plan.

For most federal workers, the government picks up about 70 percent of the total premium. What they pay every two weeks is only a portion of the total tab. But in the USPS, the government pays a lot more for the health needs of its workers. Once retired, postal workers pay the same (higher) share of premiums as nonpostal workers.

The U.S. Postal Service wants to set up its own, stand-alone health plan. It has said it could save money and provide the same good coverage as the FEHBP. But postal unions — and many experts in the health insurance field — don't see how that would work.

And there is one group that pays even more. In many cases, these are people who never worked for the government but are eligible, via a court-ordered divorce settlement, to get coverage under the FEHBP. It's considered the best health program in the country but if you pay the full premium it is very, very expensive.

Next year the family premium for someone who must pay the full premium will be $10,430 for Kaiser standard — the lowest cost plan in the FEHBP — and $14,390 for Blue Cross basic.

Today at 10 a.m. on our Your Turn radio show, health insurance expert Walton Francis will tell you how to pick the best health plan for your needs, and how to save up to $2,000 next year in premiums and out-of-pocket costs.

In the second half of the show, Sean Reilly from the Federal Times will talk about the government's sagging morale problem, postal buyouts and where you might land if politicians drive the nation over the much-ado-about-something fiscal cliff.

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

By Jack Moore

Today is International Ninja Day. Organizers of the event call on people to "plague your co-workers with ninja-ness and wear a mask to work!"

(Source: Mental Floss)


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