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Calm open season presents options for federal employees [VIDEO]

October 20, 2016 (Photo Credit: Jennifer Milbrett/Staff)
Compared to the fireworks of last year’s Federal Employees Health Benefits open season, 2017 may seem like a bit of a snooze.

Health insurance premiums will climb a collective 4.4 percent, but that’s two points less than last year's increase.

There will be no dramatic rollouts of new coverage plans in 2017 as there was with the debut of self-plus-one, though the Office of Personnel Management added coverage for Applied Behavioral Analysis to treat autism spectrum disorders.

Federal employees may find the 2017 FEHB open season downright pedestrian, but that doesn’t mean they can’t find a deal.

“It’s a very uneventful open season, as they go,” said Walt Francis, author of the annual “ Checkbook's Guide to Health Plans for Federal Employees.”

“I think the average enrollee share this year is up 6 percent. How does that compare to the Obamacare exchanges, for example? In most states, people are facing premium increases of 10, 20, 30 or 40 percent. So this is a very modest increase in premiums. As always, health care costs more every year, and the plans have to cover the costs of the people who enroll.”

Francis said that despite the turmoil of a dramatic premium increase, federal employees have options to change their coverage in search of some savings.

“Let’s say your plan’s premium isn’t even rising,” he said. “All over the country, everyone has at least two dozen options, and in most metropolitan areas — including the D.C. area — it’s more like 30 options.

“That means you are in one of, say, 25 plans. What about the other 24? The chances are that there are a couple of plans whose benefits are a little better and whose premiums are a little lower. So I like to call making a major switch among plans a way to give yourself a pay raise.”

One way that many people have found that savings bump was by making a move from the BlueCross Standard insurance plan to BlueCross Basic, which Francis said offers comparable benefits with a lower premium.

The insurance enrollment period does come at a good time for federal employees, as well as retirees who may be looking save money as a result of the potential 23 percent increase in their Medicare Part B premiums.

That uncertainty, coupled with recent changes in premiums in the Federal Long Term Care Insurance Program and that federal employees will get a new commander in chief come January, means that even with a sedate open season, it’s good weigh your options, Francis said.

“The point is people have choices. If you are feeling financially stretched, as most of us are, open season is your chance to rethink the possibility of both saving money and improving benefits,” he said.

   

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