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So Many Choices, So Little Time

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There is one week left before the start of the annual open season for federal health, dental, vision and flexible spending account benefits. Have you considered changing health plans for next year?

The place to start thinking about that question is the 2008 health benefits brochure for your current plan. You can find it online at the Office of Personnel Management Web site.

Your current plan will have a page located near the beginning of the brochure entitled "How We Change for 2008." There you'll find updates in such areas as deductibles, co-payments and mail order pharmacies, along with lists of new services covered and previously covered services dropped.

On the back cover, you will find the 2008 rates for your plan. Many plans have held the cost of their plans very near to 2007 levels, but there are some exceptions. For example, the Blue Cross Blue Shield standard option, used by more than half of all Federal Employees Health Benefits Program enrollees, is going up by 8.1 percent.

The average increase in vision plans will be less than 1 percent. Dental plans will have an average increase of 6.1 percent for 2008, mostly due to the 9 percent increase in MetLife's plan.

Check with your providers to be sure that they will continue participating with your health plan next year. If you are thinking of changing plans, be sure to ask your doctor and other providers for a list of health plans in which they participate.

Another way to gather information on your choices is to visit a health fair. Most federal agencies sponsor them at some point during open season (which runs from Nov. 12 to Dec. 10 this year). It is a good idea to do some research prior to attending so that you can be ready with specific questions for the health plan representatives.

The Office of Personnel Management has made it easy to locate the health plans available in your area and compare their features in an online database.

Further Research

There are also a couple of other sources of information about federal health plans: Consumer's Checkbook and PlanSmartChoice. Many agencies subscribe to one or both of these services and make them available to employees. To find out if your agency does, check this section of OPM's Web site.

The Consumer's Checkbook Guide to Health Plans, now in its 29th edition, is written by Walton Francis and the editors of Washington Consumer's Checkbook magazine. The guide, which comes in both print and online versions, provides a lot of information about each federal plan, including charts for individuals and families. Its ratings take into account premiums, catastrophic limits and estimates of likely out-of-pocket costs for medical expenses.

Francis is an economist and policy analyst, so the guide provides detailed analyses of all of the plans from a cost and quality standpoint. There are also comparisons of the new stand-alone dental and vision plans on both estimated out-of-pocket costs and benefits.

You can subscribe to the Checkbook Guide individually here.

On Thursday, Nov. 8, Francis will be conducting a webinar on open season options at GovernmentExecutive.com. Click here for more information and to register for the event.

PlanSmartChoice is an online tool allowing participants to select health plan features and benefits that are important to them. The program then asks the user to rate these attributes and make some trade-off decisions about them. As the person goes through this exercise, the software builds a profile of needs and preferences, and matches this to the plans available in his or her ZIP code.

For more information on PlanSmartChoice and how FEHBP enrollees used it during the 2007 open season, click here.

Program Note

Finally, for more information on open season options, tune in to "For Your Benefit," a radio show that I co-host with my colleague Bob Leins of the National Institute of Transition Planning on Saturdays at 10 a.m. ET on Federal News Radio. In the Washington area, you can tune in at 1050 AM. Or you can listen to live or archived shows online at www.federalnewsradio.com.

Here are some of the upcoming programs that will feature open season information:

  • Nov 3: Walton Francis, Consumer's Checkbook Guide to Federal Health Plans
  • Nov 10: Tom Bernatavitz, Aetna
  • Nov. 24: Dr. Raymond Obertone, DDS
  • Dec. 8: Al Schubert, VSP Vision Insurance

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.

 

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.

For more retirement planning help, tune in to "For Your Benefit," presented by the National Institute of Transition Planning Inc. live on Federal News Radio on Mondays at 10 a.m. ET on WFED AM 1500 in the Washington-metro area. Archived shows are available on NITPInc.com.

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