When it comes to shopping for health insurance, federal workers — with a cornucopia of choices — mostly do a lousy job. They stay in the same plan year after year. Roughly a quarter million feds don’t participate in the Federal Employees Health Benefits (FEHB) Program.
Although the government makes shopping for health insurance easy, pays the lion’s share of the premiums and, in many cases, permits people to shop at work, most do nothing. Nothing.
While many people complain about the FEHBP’s premiums and coverage, few ever change plans even though the government gives them an extended open enrollment period each year. This year the open enrollment period runs from Nov. 11 through Dec. 9.
Premiums for employees and retirees will rise an “average” of 4.4 percent next year. That’s only a couple of bucks per pay period. And the government will still pay about 70 percent of that average.
But with dozens of plans, and then options within those plans, that average means little if your plan is going to increase premiums by $30.48 per pay period (the SAMBA high option plan). Also, there are plans that are actually reducing premiums next year. Plans like the Rural Carriers Plan, Mail Handlers standard, or the Foreign Service benefit plan.
Most workers and definitely most federal retirees do nothing during Open Season. They may not like their plan. They may not like its premiums. Or benefits. But they still stick with it even though there are probably several alternatives as good (or better) than their current plan that pay more and/or cost less.
Shopping gets easier each year. A growing number of federal agencies now subscribe (for you) to the online version of Consumers’ Checkbook Guide to Federal Health Plans. Its author, Walton Francis, literally wrote the book on federal health insurance.
Checkbook’s system is easy to follow. Francis has done the homework, looking at premiums, benefit changes (if any), with ratings for singles, couples, families with kids, retirees with and without Medicare, and even people (like ex-spouses) who must pay the full premium.
The Checkbook guide shows what premiums will be for each plan in 2014. Then it shows your total costs (premiums and out-of-pocket) based on how little or how often you or a family members will likely use the plan.
Rule No. 1 in shopping for health plan insurance is to get it. Period.
Purchase one of the FEHBP plans even if you are a young, super-healthy, regular exerciser who eats lots of kale. Healthy habits notwithstanding, you can still fall down the stairs or be in an auto accident. Or have a surprise stroke. Anytime and at any age.
If you are uninsured, medical bills are the primary cause of bankruptcy. If money is an issue, get one of the lowest-cost FEHBP plans. But get it. Also, the Affordable Care Act/Obamcare requires people to have insurance or pay a penalty.
Tomorrow at 10 a.m., insurance expert Walton Francis will be guest on our Your Turn radio show.
Listen if you can (1500 AM or online), and if you have questions email them to me at firstname.lastname@example.org or call in during the show at (202) 465-3080. The show will be archived here.
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