Wednesday, October 12th, 2011

Top Ten Open Season Tips

Unless you’ve had a qualifying life event – like getting married or divorced, having a baby, or moving to another state – Open Season is the only time you can change your health plan status (from self only to self and family, or vice versa) or choose a different health plan based on cost or your anticipated needs.

The Federal Employee Health Benefits (FEHB) Open Season happens typically the first week of November through the second week of December each year. Make sure you check OPM’s website to confirm the dates if you expect to make any changes to your Federal health plans.

Even if you think you’re all set with your current plan, make sure by following these ten tips:

1. Ask your favorite doctors if they are participating in the plans you’re considering – or if they are leaving your existing plan. Also, get brochures for all the plans you’re considering and give them a careful read-through. Or visit the OPM’s insurance site for information on all the plans available to you.

2. Consider a Flexible Spending Account (FSA) – there’s no reason not to! By using pre-tax dollars, you’re effectively saving up to 40% on cold medicine, pain relievers and other OTC medications, prescription medications, first-aid items and even co-payments and deductibles. You can also use your FSA to help cover the cost of visiting an out-of-network doctor.

3. If you’re already enrolled in an FSA, don’t forget to re-up every year! FSA enrollment doesn’t carry over from one year to another, which is a fact that many federal employees find out too late to sign up. See the FSAFEDs section of the OPM site for more information.

4. If possible, try an Health Savings Account (HSA) in conjunction with a high deductible health plan (HD-HP) – you’ll definitely save money, and might even make money! Especially if you’re only insuring yourself and you are generally healthy, HD-HPs are worth looking into to see if they are right for you.

5. Even if you’re staying with your current plan and don’t intend to make any changes, do check the “Change in Benefits” section of your plan’s literature to see if co-payments for office visits or prescription drugs have increased dramatically from the previous year’s rates.

6. Don’t base your choice of plans solely on premiums. Make sure the plan covers all or most of the medical expenses you and your family are likely to have in the coming year.

7. Make sure you understand how a plan works before you sign up for it. Call the plan helpline and ask specific questions if you need to.

8. Is your spouse covered under your FEHB plan? Maybe he or she should be – even if they’re already covered under a really good private-sector health plan. First make sure you’re enrolled in FEHBP, and then be sure to elect a survivor annuity for your spouse so they’ll always have access to the same health care options federal retirees receive.

9. Ask your chosen health care plan if they offer any discounts on prescription drugs – for instance, if you order them through the mail or meet other requirements.

10. Take advantage of the many sources of health plan information available to federal employees! PlanSmartChoice.com, an online web portal that provides Health Grades ratings on thousands of doctors and hospitals nationwide, is one such resource – and it’s free to federal employees during Open Season. And the OPM itself offers guidance on choosing health, dental, vision and life insurance, long term care insurance and flexible spending accounts here.

Federal employees have access to the widest selection of health care plans in the U.S. Make the most of your choice by being an informed consumer – for your sake and your family’s, too.

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