The More You Know
Federal employee health insurance is all about choice. There will be 284 plans to choose from -- the most ever -- come Nov. 13, when open season for the Federal Employees Health Benefits Program begins.
There also will be seven options for new supplemental dental coverage and three choices for extra vision insurance.
The Office of Personnel Management, which oversees the 8-million-member FEHBP, increased the number of high-deductible insurance options, too. There will be 29 high-deductible plans in 2007, up from 27 this year. These offer lower premiums but leave participants paying more out of pocket when medical needs arise.
All of these choices mean more homework. Many federal employees and retirees skip the hassle and simply re-enroll in their current plan, but doing some research can save money.
And now, even more information is available to help participants decide. For the first time, a handful of insurance plans met new OPM standards for cost transparency.
The 18 companies will let enrollees get cost information for specific procedures including cataract repair, caesarean birth and knee replacement to allow participants to shop for the best deal. OPM will add companies to its list as they comply with the standards.
The companies also will provide online tools to determine price estimates for drugs. And in some cases, they will offer quality assessments of doctors.
"We believe people should … be able to get their hands on information," OPM Director Linda Springer said. "For any other major purchase, you do. This is a start."
The additional information will be most helpful to FEHBP enrollees who know they have a planned, nonemergency procedure in the works for next year. For example, if federal employees know they will be needing a cataract procedure, they can use the data to compare costs and physician quality to get the best deal.
Aetna, which offers several regional insurance options under the FEHBP, is one of the 18 companies that met cost transparency guidelines this year. Aetna enrollees will be able to see doctor-specific price information and clinical quality data in Washington, D.C.; Northern Virginia; Maryland; Connecticut; Northern Kentucky; Southeast Indiana; South Florida; and in Cincinnati, Cleveland, Columbus, Dayton and Springfield, Ohio. In Kansas City, Kansas and Missouri.; Las Vegas; and Pittsburgh, enrollees will get just price data.
Russ Dickhart, Aetna's vice president for government and labor business, said the move is "part of our broader commitment to helping our federal members make more informed decisions about their health care."
The other companies that met OPM's cost transparency standards are: American Postal Workers Union consumer-driven, Av-Med, Blue Choice for Ohio and Missouri, Blue HMO of Ohio, CaliforniaCare, CareFirst BlueChoice, Foreign Service Benefit Plan, HealthNet of California, HMO Health of Ohio, Humana Health Plans, Independent Health, Kaiser for California, Colorado and Northwest regions, M-Care, Rural Letter Carriers Health Plan, SuperMed HMO and United Healthcare.