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FEHBP Open Season Deadline is Just Around the Corner

Experts encourage enrollees to re-examine their plans and anticipated health care needs each year.

With hundreds of plans available to federal employees and retirees through the Federal Employees Health Benefits Program, reviewing the offerings during Open Season each year can be a grueling task.

There’s a lot to take into consideration: premiums, anticipated out-of-pocket costs, catastrophic limits and the size of physician networks. Depending on your needs, you could save hundreds, if not thousands, if you pick a plan that’s right for you.

The deadline for selecting a new FEHBP plan for 2018 is Dec. 11. If you have waited until the last minute and are struggling to make a decision, fear not. Consumer’s Checkbook is back again this year with its Guide to Health Plans for Federal Employees.

The guide evaluated FEHBP’s 20 national health plans, more than 200 health maintenance organization options, local plans available in different geographic areas, and several plans that are restricted to certain categories of employees. The plan comparison tool allows users to evaluate potential costs based on health care data for people with similar demographics. For retirees, it shows how their access to Medicare can affect costs and coverage.

According to analysts, it is best to evaluate what medical expenses you can anticipate for the coming year, and then choose the lowest-cost plan that covers those needs. Savings can then be put toward a flexible spending account to help cover unexpected events and other out-of-pocket costs.

“It never makes sense to pay an extra $1,000 in premium if the most you will spend on a particular physician or service is a few hundred dollars,” Consumer’s Checkbook said in a release describing the guide. “[Even] if you know you are going to use a particular service, you can enroll in a plan that costs less overall but doesn’t necessarily have a particularly good benefit in that area. Use the savings to establish a flexible spending account and focus that spending on that special need.”

Additionally, federal employees and retirees with children who are aging out of the family insurance plan, either by no longer being dependents or reaching the maximum age of 26, should evaluate whether it makes sense to switch from a Self Plus Family insurance plan to a Self Plus One plan. The benefits are nearly identical between each plan within an insurance company.

“Most self plus one premiums are lower than family premiums, primarily because fewer persons incur fewer expenses,” the analysts wrote. “The differences are small (and in some cases self plus one costs more) because ‘empty nesters’ are typically much older and average health care costs rise rapidly with age . . . Hence, it is very important to check which premium is lower to decide on which way to enroll, or whether to remain in the more expensive option.”

The guide can be found at www.GuideToHealthPlans.org and in print at many agencies.