Health plans: Pain in butt or pain in wallet? Your call!

Folks who hate the thought of shopping for health insurance are going to be miserable — and maybe lose some money — during the open enrollment season that runs from Nov. 13 through Dec. 11.

Thousands of people who fled from family plans to self-plus one plans to save money are in for a big surprise! Premiums for individual non-postal workers and all retirees are going up an “average” of 6.1 percent.

That will be a challenge for feds who are looking at a January pay hike of between 1.4 and 1.9 percent. While the retiree cost-of-living adjustment won’t be announced until mid-month, odds are it won’t be enough to offset higher premiums in some of the health plans favored by retirees.

Nobody has to shop around, much less actually change health plans that will cover them and their family in 2018. But some, maybe lots, of folks who stick with the same-old-same-old health plan they’ve been with for years could see their take-home pay actually drop next year despite the pay raise and retiree COLA.

Also in for a bit of sticker shock are people — most of them federal and postal retirees — who flocked to the new self-plus one option (S+1) when it was first offered. They figured that premiums for two people should and would be lower than premiums for a family plan, which could cover a much larger group.

What they didn’t figure on was that over time the premiums for both S+1 and family plans would be roughly the same. Or that the plan covering only two people would wind up costing more because of the people — mostly elderly couples with higher health costs — who migrated to them.

Next year, for example, people enrolled in Blue Cross-Blue Shield’s popular self-only coverage will pay $7.17 more biweekly, compared to what they are paying now. Those with S+1 will pay $17.04 more per pay period in 2018 than they do this year. Those with the family plan will pay $17.72 more biweekly in 2018.

The good news for non-postal workers and retirees is that even though most premiums are going up, the government will continue to pay most of the total premium (an average of around 72 percent). The U.S. Postal Service (thanks to its union contracts) will pay an even greater share of the total premium.

The November through December open season is also the time when people can enroll in or make changes to their dental and vision insurance plans and flexible spending accounts. During the open season, we’ll have a series of columns and radio shows on who, how and why people should shop around.

Walton Francis who literally wrote the book on how-to-shop (Consumer Checkbook’s Guide to Health Plans for Federal Employees) will co-host many of the shows. A growing number of federal agencies are also offering Checkbook online, at-the-office for their employees.

Bottom line: Shopping can be a pain. Not shopping can be a big financial mistake.

Nearly Useless Factoid

By Michael O’Connell

Cobra Starship won the 2006 Stinker Award for the worst song or song performance in a film or end credits with its song “Snakes on a Plane (Bring It)” from the 2006 movie, Snakes on a Plane.

Source: IMDB