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Retirement Modernization, Take Five

The Office of Personnel Management has made various attempts to modernize the federal retirement process over the past couple of decades. These efforts have involved developing an integrated system and automated processes, but have failed to meet their goals. Recently, AINS Inc. announced that OPM had awarded the company a contract worth a potential $24.1 million over five years to use its cloud-based case management platform to try again to modernize federal retirement, and also upgrade the agency’s investigative processes.

I recently interviewed AINS CEO Moe Goswami about the contract and whether the new effort will succeed where others have failed. An edited transcript of our conversation appears below.

What product will be used to upgrade the system?

eCase is the product that was acquired for this contract. OPM is also considering many other products. The eCase platform allows us to build any kind of case management system.

Do you have experience with projects of this scale at other government organizations?

We have completed similar projects for other federal agencies, such as HUD and DHS. We will work with OPM to implement this project as a partnership between our two organizations.

Will the retirement process become employee-driven, like...

Getting the Best Health Plan Deal: An Experiment

As I’ve noted in recent columns, open season for the Federal Employees Health Benefits Program provides an opportunity to consider switching plans and potentially saving some money. Before this year’s open season ends on Monday, I wanted to provide an update on the non-scientific experimentI conducted with five friends this year. They switched from the Blue Cross Blue Shield Standard Option to the new Aetna Direct high deductible health plan during last year’s open season. This plan was new for 2015 and was designed to work with retirees who are enrolled in Medicare parts A & B.

Three of my friends who made the switch -- Ellie, Sharon and Edie -- are widows in good health who range in age from 72 to over 90. All three of them have decided to stay in Aetna Direct, which, with a self-only enrollment, provides a health fund of $750 a year for out of pocket expenses. (Self plus one or self and family enrollments provide bigger funds.) Ellie, Sharon and Edie all will carry unused health fund dollars into 2016. The self only monthly premium for 2016 is $118.33.

For my two other friends, Wanda and Cliff, deciding whether to...

Solving the Open Season Puzzle

Do you remember those plastic sliding tile puzzles? They’re a timeless classic. The object of the game is to slide the numbers around until you get them in order. Choosing the best health plan during Federal Employee Health Benefits Program open season can be a lot like solving one of these puzzles. Sometimes moving one tile will cause your entire strategy to change.

With more than a week left in the 2015 open season, which ends Dec. 14, I think solving the puzzle is worth the effort. If you make the best choice for you and your family during open season, you can put more dollars in your pocket in 2016. In last week’s column, we explored some of the psychological barriers to making a change during open season. This week and next, let’s let’s get down to brass tacks and focus on the details of evaluating your options.

Before we begin, some of you might wonder, why I spend time in a retirement planning column on open season. It’s because health benefits are just as important to retirees as they are to federal employees. Health insurance is one of the most valuable benefits an...

Recoup Some Savings During Open Season

I hope that some of you have the day off and are recovering from a wonderful Thanksgiving holiday. If you are shopping today, then you must be looking for a bargain. You need look no further than your annual health benefits open season. There may not be an actual sale going on, but by spending some time studying your options, you may find enough savings to cover the cost of what you may have spent on Black Friday.

When shopping for health insurance there are many moving parts and many choices to make, which can make this a complicated and frustrating exercise. It reminds me of Aesop’s fable about a cat and a fox. As a pack of dogs goes after the cat and the fox, the fox selfishly refuses to share with the cat the numerous ways to escape. The cat knew only one means of escape -- to run up the nearest tree. As the fox contemplated the hundreds of options, the dogs arrived and tore the poor fox to pieces. The lesson for health insurance shoppers? Don’t become paralyzed by all the options.

There are other psychological reasons why we are resistant to change. One is...

What You Need to Know about Health and Life Insurance

This week, I want to focus on some of the complexities surrounding the continuation of health and life insurance benefits in retirement and answer some readers’ questions, but first I want to clarify a point from last week’s Retirement Planning column.

There was some confusion about the number of pay dates in 2015. Some payroll offices will have 27 pay dates in 2015 and others will have 26. My point was that if there are 27 pay dates in any given year, FERS employees may need to adjust their contributions so that they will not contribute the maximum annual elective deferral limit ($18,000 for 2015 and 2016) before the last pay date so they don't miss out on agency matching contributions. Employees should check with their payroll system or their human resources office to find out if this is an issue for them in 2015. For those employees paid through the Defense Finance and Accounting Service, there will be 27 pay dates in 2015. The last pay date is Dec. 31, for the pay period that ends Dec. 26 (the pay date would normally fall on Jan. 1, 2016, but employees will be paid one day early...