The end is near …

According to some not-so-expert interpretations of the Mayan Calendar you shouldn’t be reading this, much less worrying about next year’s health plan.

Remember when the “experts” predicted the world would end on Dec. 21, 2012? By now even the dullest person will realize it didn’t happen. So what of the doomsayers? Presumably they have had plastic surgery, changed their names and gone into another line of work.

While life goes on for our planet, the end days for the federal benefits open season is right around the corner. Seriously. Close-of-Business Monday, Dec. 8.

If you don’t pick a different health plan for 2015 you will remain in your current situation. That may be great if premiums haven’t gone up too much and if your doctor will be in the network of preferred providers next year. And your health needs don’t change dramatically next year.


But it definitely pays to shop and Uncle Sam makes it sooo easy. Dozens of government departments and agencies have subscribed (free-to-you) to Consumer’s CHECKBOOK’s online version of its guide to federal health plans. You can log on, at home or work, and comparison shop. Maybe get even better coverage for less money.

Walton Francis, who has written the CHECKBOOK guide for the past three decades, says many people can save $1,000 to $2,000 next year. That is by paying lower premiums for the same good coverage, or by finding a plan that will lower your out-of-pocket costs and save you money.

Most federal and postal workers, and the vast majority of retirees, are in Blue Cross-Blue Shield. It is always highly rated and (in addition to self- only and family coverage) offers two options: Standard and Basic. They are very similar in coverage, but one has much lower premiums. Have you checked it out.

CHECKBOOK also gives good ratings (for coverage and low premiums) to a dozen other fee-for-service plans — like GEHA, NALC and APWU, SAMBA and Aetna Value. It also suggests you check out CD (consumer driven) and HD (high deductible) plans, which, Francis says, can mean they pay you — in the form of a savings account — for picking them. We talked about that yesterday here:

Last but definitely not least are the managed care HMOs (health maintenance organizations). Some have a list of doctors and facilities. Others, like Kaiser, are often centrally located, more like a private full service hospital for you. HMOs tend to have lower premiums, lower out of pocket payments and minimal paperwork.

The world won’t end if you do nothing. But your premiums may go up, and as Francis says, you may pay more than you have to for coverage you could get elsewhere. For less.

To see if your agency has subscribed to the on-line shopping tool, click here.

On Air Help: Walt Francis will be my guest Wednesday on our Your Turn radio show. It’s at 10 a.m. EST streaming at or in the DC area also on 1500 AM. If you have questions for him send them to me at:

Free Health Insurance? For information on how you get the equivalent of “free” health insurance, click here.

Married Couples: Coming up tomorrow, best buys for couples and families.


By Michael O’Connell

The Oxford English Dictionary traces the first recorded use of the idiom “flogging a dead horse” to a speech by English politician John Bright. Bright said that trying to rouse his fellow members of Parliament out of their apathy on the Reform Act of 1867 was like trying to flog a dead horse to pull a load.

Source: Wikipedia


DoD Secretary Hagel to resign, stay on until successor is confirmed
Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel is stepping down from President Barack Obama’s Cabinet. Hagel submitted his resignation letter to Obama Monday morning and the president accepted it. An official tells the Associated Press both Hagel and Obama “determined that it was time for new leadership in the Pentagon,” adding they had been discussing the matter over a period of weeks.

VA to spend up to $690 million on new patient scheduling system
Keeping a promise its CIO made a week earlier, the Department of Veterans Affairs released a request for proposals on Wednesday to build a new patient scheduling system — an endeavor that could cost up to $690 million over seven years.