Health plans: The end is near - like today

Monday - 12/10/2012, 2:00am EST

(The federal health insurance Open Season ends at close-of-business today. Today's column contains links to earlier columns and radio shows, designed to help you find the best buy for you and your family.)

A friend who does pre-retirement counseling at federal agencies estimates that in every class he teaches, about one-third of those who are married say their spouse is also a fed. He said that is especially true in the D.C. area, in Huntsville, Ala., and at military bases or facilities in relatively remote areas.

Being hitched to a fellow fed presents certain options and choices and a chance to save money on health insurance premiums and deductibles. That's especially true if one is a postal employee. And that presents certain options and choices for a fed family shopping for health insurance.

Health insurance — regardless of your age, health or marital status — is an important topic because today is the deadline for picking your 2013 FEHBP plan. If you do nothing, which is what most people do, you will stay in your current health plan. That's great if it hasn't changed. But if its premiums are going up, its benefits package is changing or your doctor is leaving its PPO network, you could be in for a series of unpleasant surprises in 2013.

Many fed couples discover that buying self-only coverage is cheaper because the single premium is less than the family premium — if that family consists of only two people. Two single premiums might be $1,250 each, whereas the family premium might be $2,700. A no-brainer, right? They could save money by having two self-only plans. Do the math. Except....

Walton Francis, author of CHECKBOOK's Guide to Federal Health Plans uses this example: "Suppose the happy couple are in a car going someplace together. It happens, even with married couples. Suppose that car has a serious accident in which both are seriously injured. Lots of hospital time and medical bills. If they had a family plan, they would have to satisfy one deductible. But if they have two self-only plans, their out-of-pocket costs could double."

Worth thinking about.

Another example is if one of you works for the Postal Service and one works for another agency. Who should buy the family plan? In most cases, the postal employee should do it because he or she pays lower premiums (for the same plans and same coverage) as nonpostal workers. Depending on the plan, the couple could save anywhere from a couple of hundred to a couple of thousand dollars a year in premiums. Worth checking out.

Finally, don't forget the five-year rule. In order to take FEHBP coverage into retirement you must be enrolled in the program (any plan) for the five years prior to retirement. Switching to the FEHBP just before you retire won't cut it. Even if your private-sector spouse has better or less expensive coverage (highly unlikely) you should enroll in one of the low-premium federal health plans, just to satisfy the five-year rule.

Best Buys: Looking for the best deals for singles, couples, postal employees and retirees with and without Medicare? Click here.


NEARLY USELESS FACTOID

By Jack Moore

Is a dog's mouth really cleaner than a human's? No, according to Life's Little Mysteries: "In short, a dog's mouth is besieged by its own legions of germs, roughly as huge in population as those living in the human mouth and causing a similar array of dental illnesses."

So think twice before letting Fido give you those sloppy kisses.


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