Open Season Begins for 8 Million Federal Health Care Participants

Federal employees and retirees have one month to make changes to their elections.

Open season -- the one-month period in which federal employees can shop for a new health insurance plan -- began this week, allowing workers to choose from more than 250 options for coverage in 2014.

About 8 million employees, retirees and dependents enroll in the Federal Employees Health Benefits Program every year. Most of them -- about 95 percent -- typically keep their existing plan, according to the Office of Personnel Management, which administers FEHBP. If enrollees do not take any action during open season, they will keep their existing coverage.

Federal employees will pay, on average, 4.4 percent more toward their health care premiums in 2014. The exact increase varies from plan to plan, though 62 percent of enrollees are currently receiving their insurance from Blue Cross Blue Shield. Individuals in Blue Cross’ standard plan will see a 2.2 percent increase, while those in the family plan will see a 2.4 percent jump.

OPM said there are no significant benefit changes for 2014, as it instead focused on keeping premiums low. There are 256 plans available -- up from 230 in 2013 -- though most of those are regional options and therefore not available to all participants. Eleven plans are open to all FEHBP enrollees.

Total premiums for non-postal FEHBP enrollees including both the employee and government portion will increase by 3.7 percent in 2014, marking the first time in more than three decades that overall FEHBP premiums have increased less than 4 percent for three consecutive years. The recent string of relatively low premium increases for FEHBP enrollees has resulted from positive market trends, as well as the increased competition created by the 2010 Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, according to OPM officials.

While hundreds of thousands of people on the individual market have reportedly received notices of canceled plans due to stricter standards created by the Affordable Care Act, federal employees do not have to worry about the law disqualifying their existing plans, as any plan qualified for FEHBP already exceeds the “minimum essential coverage” ACA requires. Some carriers are still canceling plans for other reasons, reducing service areas or simply changing the plan name; a full list of changes, including new plans, is available here.

Federal workers also can revisit their choices in the Federal Employees Dental and Vision Insurance Program during open season. Dental coverage rates increased less than 1 percent for 2014, while vision premiums decreased by 1.3 percent.

The only federal employees and retirees who must take affirmative action to re-enroll in their government-sponsored health care offerings are those with flexible spending accounts. The Federal Flexible Spending Account Program allows enrollees to set up a savings account with money set aside before taxes are deducted. Enrollments in FSAs do not carry forward year to year, and individuals wishing to continue their participation in the program must notify OPM.

FSA funds are withdrawn from feds’ paychecks and are used to cover out-of-pocket health care expenses. While enrollees have a “grace period” from Jan. 1 through March 15 to use leftover funds from the previous year, the accounts are “use it or lose it,” so OPM advises FSAFEDS enrollees to plan “carefully and conservatively” when making their annual election.

FEHBP participants can shop for their preferred plan on OPM’s website. Many active employees can enroll, cancel or change plans using Employee Express, while retirees and survivor annuitants can use this online system.

Enrollees have until Dec. 9 to determine what, if any, changes they would like to make. 

(Image via kurhan/Shutterstock.com)