Open season for federal health insurance begins

Open seasons began Monday for federal workers to make changes in their health insurance coverage and flexible spending accounts. Some employees in Alabama, Indiana, Colorado, Hawaii and Illinois will be required to choose a new health plan during this period.

The Office of Personnel Management posted assistance on its Web site Monday to guide federal employees during the open season, which will last until Dec. 13. Open season is the limited period during which employees can change their health insurance options.

Many federal workers who are happy with their coverage will not take any action during open season. Others will be forced to make changes, because some insurance companies are dropping out of the Federal Employees Health Benefits Program, while others are eliminating areas of coverage.

For example, HealthSpring of Alabama will no longer participate. For federal employees in Indiana, M Plan is also dropping out of the FEHBP system. Workers who are covered by either of these companies must choose new insurance during open season.

Several health insurance companies are reducing their service areas, and employees who take part in those plans have been advised to select new coverage. In Pensacola, Fla., Vista Healthplan is terminating an enrollment category, and affected employees must choose a new carrier. In Colorado, Hawaii and Illinois, some carriers are reducing service areas; employees who do not choose a new plan for 2005 will be forced to travel to their plan's remaining service areas to receive medical care.

PacifiCare of Colorado is dropping out of covering employees in Larimer and Weld counties. In Hawaii, the Kaiser Foundation Health Plan is dropping the island of Kauai. In Illinois, the John Deere Health Plan is dropping 11 counties, including Bureau, De Witt, Knox, La Salle, Livingston, McLean, Marshall, Peoria, Stark, Tazewell, Warren and Woodford.

Several new plans are entering the FEHBP program in 2005, including Coventry Health Care in Delaware, Georgia, Maryland, southern New Jersey and Nebraska; Community Health Plan in Kansas and Missouri; NevadaCare in Clark Country, Nev.; Global Health in Oklahoma City; Carolina Care Health Plan in South Carolina, and Prevea Health Plan in Wisconsin.

Because some federal employees will find themselves without health insurance if they do not make a selection during open season, OPM encouraged agency personnel officials to be active in disseminating benefits information.

"We strongly recommend that you distribute copies of these lists to each employee," OPM officials said in a memo to benefits administrators. "We also recommend that you follow-up with employees from these plans and remind them to select new plans."

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