2017 FEHBP Premiums to Be Unveiled Wednesday

Enrollees paid an average of 7.4 percent more toward their health insurance premiums in 2016.

Federal employees and retirees will know Wednesday how much more they will have to pay in 2017 toward their health care.

The Office of Personnel Management will unveil next year’s premium rates in the Federal Employees Health Benefits Program during a late-morning briefing Wednesday with reporters. In 2016, FEHBP employees and retirees paid an average of 7.4 percent more toward their health insurance premiums; overall premiums for non-postal employees and annuitants, including all enrollment options and both the employee and government portions, increased by an average of 6.4 percent. That increase was double that of the 2015 bump -- and the largest since 2011.

Still OPM officials and other observers consistently have argued that FEHBP is a good deal for federal employees, and have described the increases as relatively modest. The employee share is increasing faster because employees are choosing better plans that require more out-of-pocket costs. Overall, the government pays about 70 percent of employees’ premiums. 

Whatever the average FEHBP premium rate increase ends up being, it will be weighed against the significant spike in long-term care insurance premiums, which OPM announced in July. On average, those rates will increase 83 percent, or $111 more per month, for many enrollees who opt not to change their coverage. Federal Long-Term Care Insurance Program enrollees, many of whom are outraged by the steep increase, have until Friday to make changes to their coverage before the increases kick in on Nov. 1.

For federal retirees, there is another potential wrinkle: By Oct. 18, they’ll know whether or not they are going to receive an annual cost-of-living adjustment for 2017 -- after not receiving one in 2016. If they do get a COLA, it will most likely be very small.

All of those factors could make any FEHBP premium rate increase tough to take, depending on an enrollee’s particular situation.

FEHBP enrollees can choose a health plan among the three coverage options – self-only, self and family, and self-plus-one. The self-plus-one option, which took effect this year, gives feds with one eligible family member, such as a spouse or a dependent up to age 26, another FEHBP enrollment choice.  

About 8.2 million federal employees, retirees and their family members are enrolled in FEHBP. More than 1.6 million participate in the federal dental benefit, while 1.2 million enroll in vision plans. Premiums for those benefits increased 2.23 percent and 3.61, respectively, in 2016.

Open Season, the period in which federal employees and retirees can enroll in FEHBP or switch plans, will run from Nov. 14 through Dec. 12. Between 4 percent and 7 percent of enrollees typically switch plans annually.