These Are Not Dumb Questions

There’s no such thing when it comes to the federal retirement system.

Have you ever been afraid to raise your hand in a training session or seminar because you think your question might be dumb? Well, there’s no such thing when it comes to federal retirement planning. Let’s look at some of what might seem to be basic questions I’ve received lately. I’m betting you’ll learn something.

My grandson is a federal employee at Fort Sam Houston. He has lived with his girlfriend for approximately 10 years. I thought I read that he could carry her on his medical insurance although she is not a federal employee. She is losing her insurance.

Unfortunately, significant others are not included in the definition of eligible family members for Federal Employees Health Benefit plans. Here is the definition: A spouse (including under a valid common law marriage) and children under age 26, including legally adopted and stepchildren. 

How would a widow find out if her spouse had a Thrift Savings Plan account? I can’t believe how all these men are dying and the widows are in the dark.

According to the TSP, if the spouse died while still actively employed in federal service, the TSP participant’s personnel or payroll office must report their death to the TSP before death benefits can be paid from the account. So the place to start would be with the spouse’s employing agency.

If the spouse died after separating from service, a next of kin, legal representative or other responsible person must report the participant’s death to the TSP. In either case, however, the participant’s survivors must submit Form TSP-17 to the TSP along with a copy of the participant’s certified death certificate. 

If you have a TSP account, one of the things you need to think about is, “Who will receive the money in my account when I die?” This may be uncomfortable, but it’s very important not to put it off. You need to take the time to ensure that your money goes where you want. You cannot rely on your will, prenuptial agreement, separation agreement, property settlement,, or court order to specify who will inherit your account because the TSP doesn’t use any of these documents to distribute death benefit payments.

Do you happen to know if the Aetna Direct FEHB plan offers overseas benefits?

All FEHB plans provide coverage for emergencies overseas. See Section 7 of the plan brochure for information about filing an overseas claim. For the Aetna Direct plan, you will need to send a completed claim form and itemized bills. You should provide an English translation and currency conversion rate at the time of services. Medicare does not cover care received overseas. Therefore, your out of pocket expenses will be computed at the rates shown in the plan brochure and you will be required to meet the plan deductible before coverage would begin.

Some FEHB plans pay overseas providers at the preferred provider benefit level, but you will probably have to pay the difference between the plan payment and the actual charge. Keep in mind that most overseas providers require payment up front. 

I did not see an increase in my January pension. Is FERS receiving the increase in their Feb. 1 check? I also did not receive anything from OPM showing an increase. I only received a change in health benefit rate and tax withholding.

The payment you received around Jan. 1 is the December annuity payment. You should have seen a cost of living adjustment in this check if you were eligible to receive it. The COLA was effective Dec. 1, 2021, so you would have had to be eligible for the COLA before that date. Additional information about the FERS COLA can be found on OPM’s website.

Your health insurance rate should not change until your January FERS benefit, payable on Feb. 1. 

If you have a basic question about retirement planning, please don’t hesitate to ask. You can use the comments section below.