Coming up: The dullest, most important weekend of the year

Friday - 12/6/2013, 2:00am EST

If your idea of fun this weekend is curling up with a cup of hot cocoa and reading health-insurance brochures to your significant other, it means one of two things:

1) You are part of the 95 percent of the federal family that, for whatever reason, don't take part in the annual health-insurance hunting season. They (you) either stay in the same plan year after year out of inertia, loyalty or confusion despite the fact that experts say 20 to 30 percent should switch each open season.

2) You are either one of the busiest people in the U.S. government, or you are a card-carrying (brochure-loving) nerd who always waits until the last minute to make one of the most important decisions of the year: Which health plan will cover me and family members in the coming year? Your call.

The buck is about to stop here. This weekend, with you.

You have until close-of-business Monday to pick your 2014 health plan or remain a possibly uninformed prisoner in your current plan. It may be great. But its premiums may have gone up, your doctor may be leaving its network next year and you may be able to get similar coverage at a lower premium quicker than you can say Blue Cross standard vs. Blue Cross basic.

By picking (or sticking with) the wrong plan you can easily pay $1,000 to $2,000 more in premiums than is necessary for excellent coverage.

On the other hand, by skimping on premiums or choosing two self only plans instead of the higher-premium family version, you could be opening yourself up to massive medical bills and tens of thousands of dollars in out-of-pocket costs that must be made out of your pocket.

Since the open season started, we've run a series of columns with advice from the experts. Walton Francis, author of Consumers' Checkbook's Guide to Federal Health Plans, has been on each of our weekly Your Turn radio shows. Lots of good information and lots of questions answered. The good news is all of the shows are archived on our home page. To listen, click here.

Spending an hour with any of the shows should answer your questions. We also got a big assist from David Snell, director of benefits at the National Active and Retired Federal Employees association. His advice about Medicare Part B and the FEHBP is worth considering.

So, if you haven't acted on your health plan choices yet, take a couple of hours this weekend. Also it is possible your agency has subscribed for you to the online version of Checkbook. Which means you can shop at the office.

Whatever you do, at least check out your options. It could save you some money in premiums and staggering amounts in catastrophic illness/accident bills you won't have to pay next year: If you pick the right plan now!

You can also check out recent columns that will tell you how to guarantee you have health insurance in retirement (the five-year rule), the dangers of a fed couple having two self-only plans plus top tips for shopping. Read a little, save a lot:

End of nagging — until Open Season 2014, that is!


NEARLY USELESS FACTOID

Compiled by Jack Moore

Don't call it purple. The 2014 Color of the Year is "Radiant Orchid." That's according to color-matching company Pantone, which describes the colors as "an enchanting harmony of fuchsia purple and pink undertones." The company has selected an annual color since 2000.

(Source: The Washington Post)


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