Falling in love: It pays to go postal

Thursday - 10/18/2012, 2:00am EDT

When things are tight and pay raises are a faint memory, it may be time to get practical when it comes to such emotion-driven stuff as love, courtship and marriage. Especially if you work for Uncle Sam.

Federal workers tend to be the marrying kind, and mixed marriages among civil servants are fairly common. There are at least two kinds:

Type One: The wife may work for the IRS or the Defense Department, and the husband may be employed by Wal-Mart or on Wall Street.

Type Two: One spouse is employed by Justice, GSA or another executive branch agency. Their other half works for the U.S. Postal Service.

People in mixed federal marriages have a lot of things to work out besides which TV show to watch, what the kids can eat or where to spend the holidays. And next month is crunch time for them because it involves an expensive and all-important financial decision: Who buys the health insurance? And what kind?

Out-of-sight medical bills, because of an accident or catastrophic illness, are one of the leading reasons people go bankrupt. This is not a drill.

In many cases, the who-buys decision is a no-brainer. Health plans offered by private-sector employees are generally inferior (even if they are sometimes cheaper) than the several hundred options offered by Uncle Sam. In the past, many private-sector company-backed health plans dropped individuals when they retired or hit a certain age. Or, if they permitted retirees to continue coverage, they reduced benefits or coverage. By contrast, government retirees get the same coverage and pay the same premiums as younger, healthier workers. None of the plans have been allowed to bar people because of age, lifestyle or preexisting conditions. Workers and retirees can switch every year, if they like, during the November-December open season. Feds who have coverage for the five years prior to retirement can keep coverage — for themselves and a spouse — after they retire.

When one spouse works for the U.S. Postal Service, the decision is even easier. It is a matter of dollars and cents. Thanks to their union contract, postal workers (but not retirees) pay a smaller share of their premiums than do regular federal workers. Example:

Premiums in Blue Cross-Blue Shield's popular basic plan next year will total $236.30 biweekly for self-only coverage and $553.30 for family coverage. Before you head for the nearest window or faint, bear in mind that is the TOTAL premium. Not what you will pay.

In 2013, the government will pick up most of the health premium tab. In the case of the BC-BS basic plan, the government will pay the lion's share, or $177.23 biweekly for employees who purchase a self-only plan. Uncle Sam will pay $414.98 of the total biweekly premium for family coverage. After that split, singles will pay "only" $59.07, and the employee share of the family premium will be 138.32. That's still a lot, especially after a two (going on three) year pay freeze. But it is also a pretty good split.

For postal workers, the deal is even better. Although the total premium for postals and nonpostals is the same in each plan, the amount the employee pays isn't. By a long-shot.

The Postal Service will pay a much bigger chunk of the premium. Postal employees will pay only $38.99 for single coverage and $91.29 for family coverage. In other words, postal feds will pay between $20 and almost $50 less each pay period than nonpostal employees.

During the health insurance hunting season, (Nov. 12 through Dec. 10) we'll have a series of "best buy" columns and radio shows. All of the federal health plans are good, but some are too expensive or have too high a catastrophic coverage cap, which ultimately increases the total cost to you. So check us out. Meantime, click here for the nonpostal and postal premiums. Definitely check them out.


NEARLY USELESS FACTOID

By Jack Moore

Australian researchers have determined that certain forms of slime mold, despite not having brains, possess a rudimentary form of memory.

(Source: BBC)


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