Pay and Benefits Watch: Switching health plans

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A Maryland employee of the Social Security Administration wrote Pay and Benefits Watch after she read that the average increase in Federal Employees Health Benefits Program (FEHBP) premiums would be more than 9 percent next year.

"I thought it was distressing to see the average increase of 9.3 percent," the employee wrote. "But I was totally unprepared to see that my own premium contribution will actually increase by 93-yes, 93!-percent."

The employee belongs to the Free State Health Plan, which in 1999 charges her a biweekly premium of $23.87. When she looked at the rates for 2000, listed on GovExec.com's FEHBP Open Season Guide, she discovered that her biweekly premium next year would nearly double, to $46.07.

For the Maryland employee, and many other civil servants facing big premium hikes, it's time to shop around. The FEHBP open season began Monday, Nov. 8 and runs until Dec. 13. That gives employees a little more than a month to review the various health plans available to them.

Start by comparing your current premium with the premium for next year on our FEHBP Open Season Guide. You can also download the FEHBP Handbook there.

Then head over to the Office of Personnel Management's FEHBP Web site. There, you can see how your plan ranks in the Computer Assessment of Health Plans Survey, prepared by the Agency for Health Care Policy and Research. OPM also offers a tool called PlanSmartChoice, which you can use to weigh various factors that influence which health plan you should choose.

The OPM site also provides links to health insurance companies' Web sites. If you're seriously considering switching plans, it's worth looking at their Web sites and learning more about the companies.

If you crave numerous sources of consumer information, you can also look up health insurance plans on the National Committee for Quality Assurance Web site. For a host of additional Web-based resources on choosing health plans, stop by the Healthfinder Web site, run by the Department of Health and Human Services.

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