Updated Consumers’ Checkbook Guide Aims to Help Feds Compare Health Plan Costs

“Most people don’t realize how much money they’re leaving on the table,” says consumer advocate Walton Francis.

The nonprofit Consumers’ Checkbook is back with its annual guide for federal employees and retirees to help them select the best health insurance coverage for 2020 during the Nov. 11 to Dec. 9 window to make changes.

The selection process can be daunting: Federal Employees Health Benefits Program beneficiaries have 279 options, 14 more than they had in 2019. For over 40 years Consumers’ Checkbook has been helping federal employees and retirees choose the best health plans for themselves and their families. While the Office of Personnel Management has its own tool for users to research plans, Checkbook has some different features. 

“We do something the federal government has never done and probably never will, which is we actually give advice on which plans are likely to save you the most money,” said Walton Francis, an independent consultant and author of Consumers’ Checkbook Guide to Health Plans for Federal Employees. “We don’t know about the unknown costs. So the innovative thing that Checkbook did and does is to say, ‘let’s get data on how much people are likely to spend . . . if they are of worse than average health, average health or better than average health.’” 

Using public and private data sources, Checkbook (available online and print) takes into consideration age, prior health conditions and family size to determine what people will pay under different plans. Francis said Checkbook is the only website that gives detailed information on how best to save money, includes “unofficial” benefits provided by plans at no additional cost (such as dental) and gives financial protection ratings for federal employees and annuitants. 

“Most federal agencies pay to provide our tool for their employees, said Francis. He also noted that Checkbook uses the agency’s plan brochures to obtain some information. The “common format” of the brochures is “one of the very best things OPM does.”

Federal employees will pay on average 5.6% more for their health insurance premiums in 2020, an uptick from the historically low increase feds paid this past year. However, the exact increase will depend on the plan an employee chooses.

“The fact is people hate comparing health insurance plans. Nobody wants to read that 100 page brochure,” said Francis. “Most people don’t realize how much money they’re leaving on the table and OPM cares about this problem, we care about this problem and there’s just no simple solution to it.”