Are you overwhelmed by the number of acronyms floating around relative to health benefits? Here's a quick guide:
- FEHBP: Federal Employees Health Benefits Program. This is your health plan as a federal employee or retiree. Within FEHBP, every employee and eligible retiree has many attractive plans to choose from. With the federal government picking up an average of 75 percent of the cost, most plans are affordable and all plans provide comprehensive inpatient, outpatient and prescription drug coverage.
- FEDVIP: Federal Employees Dental and Vision Insurance Program. This brand-new product, authorized by Congress in 2004, rounds out the package of health care-related workplace benefits available to current and retired federal employees. It's very different from previous dental or vision benefits you may have had in conjunction with your existing FEHBP plan. If you sign up for FEDVIP coverage, then your FEHBP plan will be the primary payer if it includes dental and/or vision coverage and your FEDVIP plan will be the secondary payer. Enrollment in a dental or vision plan under FEDVIP should be better than any federal coverage you've had in the past. If you're still trying to make up your mind about whether to sign up, be sure to check out www.benefeds.com or www.opm.gov/insure.
- FSA: Flexible Spending Account. An account established by a federal employee to be used for payment of health care expenses. Employees designate a certain amount of money to be allotted to their FSAs each pay period. This allotment will reduce the employee's taxable income for the year. The money must be spent on out-of-pocket health care costs (which includes deductibles, co-pays and expenses not covered by FEHBP, such as laser vision correction surgery) or dependent care expenses (depending on the account established). Funds allotted for 2006 must by used by March 15, 2007. Funds allotted this open season for 2007 must be used between Jan. 1, 2007 and March 15, 2008. Expenses between Jan. 1 and March 15 will be spent from the 2006 balance first and then from the 2007 account. To enroll in an FSA, go to www.fsafeds.com.
If you waited until the last weekend of open season to make your choices, fear not. You are not alone. Many people are last-minute shoppers when it comes to federal health benefits.
There are telephone hot lines available for all the participating plans throughout the open season, even on weekends. Here are a few numbers to keep handy:
- FSAFEDS (Flexible Spending Account information): 877-372-3337
- FEDVIP Dental Plans:
Aetna Preferred Provider Organization: 800-537-9384
GEHA PPO: 877-434-2336
MetLife PPO: 888-865-6854
United Concordia PPO: 877-394-8224
Triple-S PPO (Service area: Puerto Rico): 787-774-6060
GHI PPO (Service area: New York state, some parts of Pennsylvania, Connecticut and New Jersey): 800-444-2333; 212-501-4444
CompBenefits Fee for Service Organization (Service area: Alabama, Arkansas, District of Columbia, Florida, Georgia, Illinois, Indiana, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Missouri, Mississippi, North Carolina, Ohio, Oklahoma, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, Virginia, West Virginia and most of Maryland): 877-692-2468
- FEDVIP Vision Plans:
Blue Cross and Blue Shield PPO: 888-550-2583
Spectera PPO: 866-375-3263
Vision Service Plan PPO: 800-807-0764
- FEHBP: For information, employees should contact their agency's human resources office (but remember, these offices won't be staffed on weekends). Federal retirees can contact the Office of Personnel Management by phone at 888-767-6738 on weekdays from 7:30 a.m. until 7:45 p.m. EST. Remember, though, that OPM does not individually advise employees or retirees on the best plan for them.
It seems like open season brings out the best and worst in people. The best thing people are doing is asking questions, reading brochures, seeking out Internet resources and discussing their options with their friends and family members. The worst thing you can do is nothing.
If you haven't already made your open season choices, I challenge you to spend one hour this weekend seriously looking at your options. This may be the most lucrative hour you've spent all year, because it could save you hundreds of dollars in 2007. The size of the federal workforce creates wonderful leverage in securing competitive benefits and pricing for employees and retirees. But you may have to do a little hunting to get the best deal.
I don't want to keep you from your research any longer. I've already made my choices, and I'll report back to you next year on how they worked out. Happy open season to all! Tammy Flanagan is the senior benefits director for the National Institute of Transition Planning Inc., which conducts federal retirement planning workshops and seminars. She has spent 25 years helping federal employees take charge of their retirement by understanding their benefits.