Open enrollment for federal employee health benefits is well underway. Have you made your choices yet?

If you haven’t, we get it. From coordinating holiday travel to choosing the right casserole for Thanksgiving to deciding whether it’s finally the year that you’ll settle for a fake Christmas tree, there’s a lot on your mind this time of year.

And perusing health insurance doesn’t exactly shout “festivities!”

Still, don’t let the December deadline pass you by. Experts told Federal Times that even if you’re satisfied with your current plan, it most likely will change going into 2023.

Federal employees, retirees and some military service members can browse the online marketplace to buy health insurance for next year. This annual period of open enrollment for employer-sponsored health care coverage is a chance to review and change coverage for twelve months beginning Jan. 1, 2023. More than 8 million people obtain coverage through the plans each year.

Whether you’re new to government, had a qualifying life event or just want to make sure there isn’t a more affordable plan out there, this checklist will guide you through the steps of open enrollment. You have until Dec. 12 to finalize your elections.

Know how across-the-board cost increases affect you

We’ve reported it before, and we’ll report it again: though beneficiaries are in for a large increase in health care costs this year, that doesn’t mean you’re guaranteed to pay 8.7% more on average.

In terms of the widely reported average increase, 119 plans had increases that were below the average, while 78 had average increases at or above 8.7%.

This article has more advice on shopping around.

Identify a tool to comparison shop

There are many ways to compare plans, from the one offered by the Office of Personnel Management to the Consumers’ Checkbook tool to doing your own research based on this year’s plan brochures.

You can see how your plan changed in section II of official FEHB plan brochures.

OPM also provides information on healthcare quality and customer experience scores, which you can search by area for a specific plan here.

Brush up on plan types

Two types of plans participate in the FEHB Program: fee-for-service plans and health maintenance organizations.

Generally, HMOs use a network of doctors to coordinate care on your behalf. Premiums for HMOs can sometimes be lower cost than FFS.

FFS plans reimburse the enrollee or the health care provider for the cost of covered services. The enrollee may choose his or her own physician, hospital and other health care providers. Most FFS plans offer services through a preferred provider organization.

Don’t neglect savings accounts

FSAFEDS allows federal employees to save money for health care expenses with a flexible spending account. While not mandatory, it’s a way to help pay for needs that aren’t covered by your FEHB plan. It also offers an account for families with young children or elderly members via the Dependent Care FSA.

Here’s how it works: money contributed to your account is set aside pre-tax, which means you can save about 30% on your federal taxes, according to OPM. The average tax savings for a person earning $50,000 who contributes $2,000 into an FSA account is approximately $600.

Eligible employees can enroll in FSAFEDS each year during open season, but keep in mind that enrollment does not carry forward year to year.

You can also check the FSAFEDS Eligible Expense Listing for an extensive list of eligible expenses.

Ask yourself how your health or family needs changed

It’s a good idea to take inventory of your health care bills over the last year and estimate what your out-of-pocket expenses run each year.

Also consider how your needs might change in the new year: are you having a baby? Will you need planned surgery? Will your child need braces?

If you have predictable dental or vision expenses for you or your family, check whether your health insurance plan covers them. Then, add up premium and out-of-pocket costs for the plans that interest you.

And remember that in 2023, there are 86 FEHB plan options where self and family enrollment is less expensive than self-plus-one enrollment.

How to make elections

If you are ready to pick your health insurance, see which portal you need to use at this link.

Annuitants can change, cancel or suspend their FEHB enrollment by using OPM’s online system, calling 1-800-332-9798 or sending regular mail postmarked no later than final date of open season.

What if I make no changes?

If you are satisfied with your health insurance benefits and the price you will pay next year, you do not have to do anything. Your enrollment will automatically continue.

For more information about specific plan changes and coverage areas unique to 2023, check out the Federal Times Open Enrollment Guide linked here.

Molly Weisner is a staff reporter for Federal Times where she covers labor, policy and contracting pertaining to the government workforce. She made previous stops at USA Today and McClatchy as a digital producer, and worked at The New York Times as a copy editor. Molly majored in journalism at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

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