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Advice on how to prepare for life after government.

Who’s Paying for Your Health Insurance?

I recently had an interesting email exchange with a retired U.S. Army reservist who is also a retired federal civilian employee. He told me that during the recent health benefits open season, he decided to enroll in TRICARE, the health care program for military service members and retirees. He opted to suspend his Federal Employees Health Benefit Program plan.

His question was: “What happens to the approximately 75 percent that the government was paying into the FEHBP? Was that dropped, too?” He noticed that when he received his Feb. 1 annuity statement from the Office of Personnel Management, his premium had dropped from $444 per month to $0. He wondered if the government stopped paying its portion of his former FEHBP plan, which cost $971.90 a month. “How does TRICARE cover such an amount, since they apparently take nothing out of my military annuity for health care?”

He also noted that the copays for TRICARE standard are similar to FEHBP (20 percent if in network), and the yearly family deductible to meet is actually lower than in his Blue Cross Blue Shield FEHBP plan. Expenses covered under the two plans seem fairly similar. So is it correct to...

Neither CSRS nor FERS

It’s been a while since I’ve written about a group of federal employees who sometimes feel overlooked or forgotten -- those who are are neither under the Civil Service Retirement System or the Federal Employees Retirement System. Rather, they’re in a system that has some of the elements of both, but with a few complicated twists -- CSRS Offset.

CSRS Offset covers employees who completed at least five years of civilian federal service creditable under CSRS, but who also have come under the Social Security system at some point. I’ve written about this program in the past. These three columns should answer most questions about CSRS Offset:

  • Best of Both Worlds An introductory description of CSRS Offset, along with a little history and some resources.
  • Understanding CSRS Offset An overview of the system, with an explanation of how the offset is computed at age 62 or at the time of retirement, if later.
  • Complicating Factors A look at what happens when a CSRS Offset retiree is married to CSRS retiree and the CSRS Offset retiree dies.

I recently received a question from a reader about CSRS Offset that I think sheds some light on the system, and provides...

Is FERS Better? Readers Weigh In

Last week’s column, Unlocking the Secrets of FERS, received a huge response. I figured it would, since I attempted to point out the benefits of coverage under the Federal Employees Retirement System over the Civil Service Retirement System for certain federal workers. That’s always a subject of hot debate.

It was encouraging to see many people recognize that any comparison of FERS and CSRS must take into account that CSRS was designed as a single benefit plan that stands alone, while FERS is a three-tiered plan featuring a basic benefit, Social Security and Thrift Savings Plan investments. So evaluating the two systems, as one reader noted, “is a little like comparing apples and oranges.”

But readers of the column certainly had their opinions and perspectives on CSRS and FERS. Here’s a recap of some of the comments I received.


  • “I retired CSRS after 34+ years. I'm really happy with my pension. A few of my peers switched to FERS in one of the open enrollment periods and all are sorry they did.”
  • “No kidding, CSRS and FERS are as different as night and day. CSRS is way better. This article did nothing to change...

Unlocking the Secrets of FERS

As you probably know, federal employees are generally covered by one of two retirement systems: the “old” Civil Service Retirement System or the “new”  Federal Employees Retirement System. But FERS isn’t that new any more. It includes many employees who have accumulated 30 or more years of federal service. And recently it’s been updated twice: In 2013 Congress created FERS-RAE (for “revised annuity employees”) and a year later FERS-FRAE (for, get this, “further revised annuity employees”). Employees hired in the past couple of years under the two new systems contribute more than traditional FERS workers toward their basic retirement benefit. But so far, they have the same FERS benefits as other employees hired before 2013.

I rarely hear anyone say that FERS is superior to CSRS, which includes a large defined benefit.  But for some employees, FERS can provide a bigger retirement benefit than CSRS. (I can hear longtime readers of this column saying, “here she goes again.”) Sure, if given the choice, many veteran employees would choose CSRS without hesitation. But others just might find FERS is better.

Lets look at some categories of such employees:

People with less than 30 years of federal service or who...

What Really Happens When You Change Health Plans

If you changed health plans during the 2014 open season, you might find yourself in uncharted waters this year.

I’ve been talking lately to some of my retiree friends who heard (from me) about the new Aetna Direct plan that was designed especially for retirees who have Medicare Parts A and B. They thought it seemed like a good idea to have a health plan tailor-made for their situation. So they did the unthinkable: They changed plans.

My friends, Ellie, Edie, Sharon, Wanda and Cliff (who range in age from just-turned-65 to more than 90), had been covered under the Blue Cross Blue Shield standard option for more than 30 years. So this was a big change. I don’t sell insurance, but since I was the one who introduced them to the idea of switching, I’m now the go-to person for questions about the change.

The emails, phone calls and visits started in December. Here’s a recap of how the conversion has gone so far.

Signing Up

After I told my friends about the new plan, they all were interested. “Could you help us sign up?” they asked. “Sure,” I said. “I can show you how...