Downsizing Your Health Care Tab

Choosing a federal health plan solely because its premiums are low isn’t the best way to protect yourself or your family. But it is possible to minimize your premiums and still get excellent coverage within the FEHBPs family of plans and options.

And some of the best-buys are plans most federal and postal workers have never heard of.

The federal healthplan which covers rank and file civil servants, postal employees, government retirees and their survivors as well as members of Congress and their staffs is considered the best in the nation. The government pays the lion’s share (about 70 percent) of the premium, nobody can be rejected for any reason and coverage is for life. Starting in January, children up to age 26 can be covered by their parent’s FEHBP family plan even if they are not dependent, not living at home and are themselves married with children. However, their spouse and children are NOT eligible for coverage under the family plan.

For people looking for low-premium best-buys, insurance guru Walton Francis recommended they consider an HMO or one of the relatively new CD or HD (consumer driven or high deductible) health plans. The managed care HMOs have traditionally offered low premiums and minimal co-payments. Francis, who writes Checkbook’s Guide to Health Plans for Federal Employees, says the CD and HD plans offer employees “substantial savings over almost all traditional insurance plans.” And he said the CD/HD plans also “have loophole-free protections against high costs that are better than those in most traditional fee-for-service plans.”


When rating best buys, for singles, couples, families, retirees, etc., Checkbook assumes that whatever plan you pick you will stay in network and use the plan’s preferred providers.

Checkbook ranks Kaiser, MD-IPA and Aetna Open Access-basic as best buys among the HMOs. Francis points out that each of them “will save an average family well over $1,500 compared to the most popular plan, Blue Cross standard option.”

Consumer Driven (CD) and High Deductible (HD) plans offer HMO-like premiums that are $300 to $2,000 less in 2011 than fee-for-service plans. And they are growing in popularity. In 2008 about 40,000 fed family members were covered by the then-new plans. This year that number has jumped to 74,000. All of the plans are considered best-buy candidates. They include APWU CDHP, Aetna HealthFund CDHP and HDHP.

Fee-for-service plans remain the most popular with federal workers, and especially with retirees. Among Checkbook’s best buys are Blue Cross basic; Foreign Service; APWU high option; Compass Rose; GEHA standard and SAMBA standard.

Dozens of agencies have subscribed to the on-line version of Checkbook. So you can shop at the office. To see if your agency has signed up go to

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by Suzanne Kubota

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