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Benefits Roundup

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This week I’ve had the privilege of attending the Office of Personnel Management’s 2012 Benefits Roundup in Dallas for retirement specialists and employee benefits specialists at federal agencies. The company I work for, the National Institute of Transition Planning, has exhibits in the vendor area to provide information about the midcareer and preretirement seminars that we conduct.

The conference is packed with more than 450 human resources professionals learning how to better serve the employees of their agencies. (There was nothing but training going on at this government conference -- and very good training at that.) Topics covered included insurance, worker’s compensation, employee assistance programs, the Thrift Savings Plan, Social Security, Medicare and, of course, retirement.

Here are a few interesting statistics that came out of sessions at the conference:

  • If every federal employee who is eligible to retire did so at the same time, OPM’s retirement claim workload would increase by almost 302,000 claims. That’s 16 percent of the current workforce.
  • Almost half of all retirement claims submitted to OPM come from employees covered under the “new” Federal Employees Retirement System. FERS now includes employees with 30 years of service and more. Keep in mind that even though FERS only covers employees hired after 1983, some employees had prior government service, both civilian and military (not enough or the right kind of service to qualify for Civil Service Retirement System coverage, but still creditable under FERS) and some employees transferred their coverage from CSRS to FERS.
  • OPM answered 1.8 million calls about retirement benefits in 2011 and responded to 281,000 written requests. The agency receives almost 100,000 claims for retirement benefits in a typical year, and pays out about $6 billion per month in retirement benefits and survivor benefit claims.
  • OPM is conducting monthly audits of retirement claims to identify agency error rates. Fewer errors on retirement applications mean less time processing them.
  • OPM has partnered with the Navy to incorporate Six Sigma processes to improve efficiency in processing claims for retirement and other benefits. This is already paying off by reducing the backlog of claims.
  • Ninety-five percent of doctors in the United States accept Medicare patients. I was surprised by this, because many employees tell me they’re afraid they won’t be able to see their doctor after they turn 65.

Some Tips

As I listened to presenters and audience members at the conference, I gathered several tips and other pieces of information that employees should be aware of as they prepare for retirement:

  • Keep copies of all your retirement documents, including the application you have completed. That way, if an issue should arise, you can check to see how the form was completed or the choices that you made. Check dates, spelling, and the accuracy of your Social Security number and other personal information on all paperwork submitted to OPM from your agency.
  • If you move after you retire, be sure to let OPM know where you are. And don’t forget to tell the folks at the Thrift Savings Plan, too. If they can’t find you, they may suspend your retirement payments, or declare your TSP account abandoned.
  • If you receive correspondence from OPM, don’t ignore it. It may have a date that you must respond by or an action will automatically take effect.
  • If you experience an unusual or significant change after you retire (marriage, death, divorce or any other event that might impact your retirement), be sure to notify OPM. Also, go back and read the instructions for the CSRS or FERS retirement application. For example, if you get divorced after you retire, the survivor election you made at the time of retirement will be void.
  • If you are divorced, your former spouse can no longer be covered under your Federal Employees Health Benefits Program self-and-family enrollment. I heard a tale of an employee who carried his ex-wife as a family member on his enrollment for 14 years before the error was discovered. As a result, the former spouse owes her medical providers more than $400,000 for services that were paid by health insurance that she didn’t really have.
  • If your spouse dies, be sure to notify OPM as soon as possible. The agency will have to adjust the retirement payment back to the date of death and begin the survivor’s annuity. The longer this is left undone, the more money OPM will have to recover from the survivors.
  • If you make a change to your health plan in the open season prior to your retirement, it won’t be finalized until your retirement claim is finalized. This could take five to eight months, or longer. In the meantime, the open season change will take effect and the premiums will be retroactive to the open season effective date, but your new health plan will not be notified until your retirement claim is processed at OPM. The problem is if you have to use the new health plan, you will have to contact OPM once you’re placed in interim retired status so that your new insurance carrier can be notified that you have changed coverage. You should save a copy of Form SF-2809, Employee Health Benefits Registration, to show you submitted the open season change.
  • About 65 percent of the errors on retirement claims submitted to OPM involve FEHBP and federal Employees Group Life Insurance forms. In many of these cases, the agency has not documented the five years of coverage required for employees to continue their FEHBP and FEGLI coverage into retirement.
 

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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