Open season demystified: Tips for making smart choices

Friday - 11/4/2011, 10:16am EDT

Ed Zurndorfer, registered employee benefits consultant

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By Jack Moore
Federal News Radio

Starting Nov. 14, federal employees will get the chance to make changes to their insurance under the Federal Employees Health Benefits Program.

That's when "open season" begins. And federal employees have a lot of choices, for everything from health to vision plans.

Registered employee benefit consultant Ed Zurndorfer, a registered employee benefits consultant, joined joined the Federal Drive with Tom Temin and Amy Morris with tips for making the best decisions.

Zurndorfer discussed:

  • The biggest change to FEHBP this open season. One of the big changes this year is the decrease in the number of providers — doctors and hospitals — in perferred-provider plans, Zurndorfer said. "It seems like the number of preferred providers has been decreasing in these preferred networks," he said. Employees should look out for that, he said, by examining the brochures that each plan provides through the Office of Personnel Management.

  • The No.1 thing feds should think about this open season. Federal employees and retirees often boil the process of choosing a health plan down to too simple of a formula, Zurndorfer suggested. In other words: premiums are not the only thing that matter."That is not the only factor in determining what is a good plan," he said. Instead health insurance shoppers should look at total costs under each plan.

  • The tools available to help employees sort through everything. Zurndorfer said there are no easy tricks for those shopping around. "It is daunting, but you have to go back to old-fashion pencil and paper," he said. Federal employees and retirees should calculate how much they paid out-of-pocket under their current plan and how much they would under a new one, he explained.
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