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Last Chance for Open Season Changes

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Flickr user Cam Evans

As everyone knows, the holidays can be a stressful time. And years ago the federal government decided to add to the pressure by scheduling the annual Federal Employees Health Benefits Program open season during this period. Why couldn’t they have picked February or March?

I’m ready for this open season to be over. If you are, too, the good news is you don’t have long to wait. Open season ends at midnight on Monday, Dec. 12. But I’m still getting a lot of questions from people who haven’t finalized their decisions about health plans, dental and  vision supplements, and flexible spending account allotments. Since the answers to such questions can mean more cash in your take-home pay next year and fewer out-of-pocket medical expenses, I thought I’d take up a few of them during this last week of open season.

I am going to suspend my FEHBP coverage because I am also covered as a retiree under TRICARE. If I later wish to enroll in self plus one coverage, can I re-enroll in that level of coverage even though I suspended a self-only plan?

Since retirees can change from self only to self plus one or self and family coverage during open season, there’s no reason why someone who is re-enrolling in FEHBP during an open season couldn’t choose to enroll in a different level of coverage. During the time FEHBP is suspended, you are considered to be not enrolled. During open season an annuitant can re-enroll in any FEHBP plan for which they are eligible for and choose self only, self plus one or self and family coverage. Here’s more information from the Office of Personnel Management on  retirees and FEHBP.  

I have a high deductible health plan and I plan to switch to a traditional fee for service plan mid-year in 2017 because my spouse is retiring from the private sector next year. Can I contribute pre-tax contributions to the health savings account before I change my enrollment to a traditional fee for service health plan?

You must be covered by a high deductible health plan with no other health plan coverage in order to be eligible to make tax-free contributions to a health savings account. IRS Publication 969 contains more details on contribution limits for those who were not an eligible individual for the entire year or changed coverage during the year.

I am retiring Jan. 3, 2017, and am currently enrolled in FEHBP and FEDVIP dental and vision coverage. I am considering not having vision coverage for 2017. Can I then get the vision coverage again in a later open season?

Retirees are eligible to enroll in a FEDVIP plan even if they were not enrolled prior to retirement. FEDVIP is not part of the FEHBP program and doesn’t have FEHBP’s five-year test requiring coverage prior to retirement. FEDVIP coverage is available during annual open season periods to retirees and annuitants. Here’s more information about transitioning to retirement under FEDVIP and the Federal Long Term Care Insurance Program.

Can I make my open season election electronically?

In most cases, yes. Here are some guidelines from OPM for current federal employees:

Retirees can make changes:

  • Using OPM's Open Season Online system.
  • Using Open Season Express by calling 1-800-332-9798.
  • Sending regular mail to: Office of Personnel Management, Open Season Processing Center, P.O. Box 5000, Lawrence, Kansas 66046-0500

To be sure that your changes are received by the Dec. 12 deadline, an online service, if available, is your best option.

If I’ve been happy with my health plan for the last 20 years, is there any reason to change?

You won’t know until you take the time to compare the out-of-pocket costs you will incur using your current plan in 2017 to the other plans that are available to you during open season. Such costs include not only your premiums, but also your plan deductible, copayments, coinsurance and catastrophic out-of-pocket cap. You also should factor in accessibility of in-network providers and prescription drug costs.

To make your comparisons, you can consult the plan information area of OPM’s website, the Consumer’s Checkbook Guide to Federal Health Plans, and the ongoing open season virtual benefits fair, which includes two open season webinars I presented this year. Members of the National Active and Retired Federal Employees association have access to two additional webinars at the NARFE Federal Benefits Institute.

You owe it to yourself to spend some time considering this important decision before finishing your holiday shopping, decorating, travel arrangements or anything else on your list of obligations this very busy month.

Photo: Flickr user Cam Evans

Tammy Flanagan has spent 30 years helping federal employees take charge of their retirement by understanding their benefits. She runs her own consulting business at www.retirefederal.com and provides individual counseling as well as online training for the National Active and Retired Federal Employees Association, Plan Your Federal Retirement and the Federal Long Term Care insurance Program. She also serves as the senior benefits director for the National Institute of Transition Planning Inc., which conducts federal retirement planning workshops and seminars.

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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