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It’s healthcare open enrollment season and federal workers have until December 11th to enroll or make changes to their existing healthcare plans. We speak to an expert from Consumer’s Checkbook for an overview of what’s changed for 2018, and get advice on comparing premiums and out-of-pocket costs.
- Walter Francis Economist and policy analyst; Editor of the Consumers' Checkbook "Guide to Health Plans for Federal Employees.”
Tips and Takeaways
The 2017 Open Season is from November 13, 2017 through December 11, 2017.
Walt Francis, healthcare economist and editor of the Consumers Checkbook Guide to Federal Health Plans, joined us on the Kojo Show to answer questions and advise listeners on choosing a health plan.
The biggest takeaways:
- Happy with your current plan? You should still review your options. Plans, premiums, and benefits change each year; all plan premiums have changed, with some seeing increases as high as 20%; others have actually dropped.
- Have you been enrolled in a Cadillac plan for years now? That top-tier plan is likely to have the highest premiums, and may have been surpassed by plans that are cheaper with better benefits.
- Overwhelmed by it all? Comparison tools make it all much easier—either the OPM’s guide on the Federal Benefits Open Season Website which includes a FAQ list, or the Consumer Checkbook’s Guide to Health Plans for Federal Employees. The Checkbook’s guide takes into account your family size, age, and premium cost, whether your health care needs are likely to be low, average or high, and it calculates the likely total cost to you next year. (The Consumer Checkbook’s guide requires a subscription, but your department or agency may already subscribe.)
Highlights from the Checkbook’s 2018 Guide:
- Lower cost plans: Many HMOs, most Consumer-Driven and High Deductible plans, the Blue Cross Basic plan, the NALC and Foreign Service high option plans, and the GEHA Standard option plan can save a family $2,000 or more a year, compared to the highest-cost nationally available plans.
- Local Plans: Annual costs are lower in some local plans than in national insurance plans. For example, several DC-area plans—including three Kaiser options, UnitedHealthcare’s High Deductible option, CareFirst High Deductible option, and Aetna Open Access Basic option—will save an average family $2,000 or more compared to the most popular plan, Blue Cross Standard option.
- Pros and Cons of Lower Cost Plans: How much the better buy plans save varies substantially depending on the age, family size, retirement status, and other facts about the enrollee. The Aetna HMO Basic option, the Kaiser HMO standard option, and the Aetna, CareFirst, and NALC High Deductible and Consumer-Driven options, and the GEHA standard and High Deductible options will save a retired couple without Medicare, on average, $3,000 or more compared to the most popular retiree plan, Blue Cross Standard option.
- Newer Plans: The Guide’s ratings show that most plans of the newest types, Consumer-Driven and High Deductible plans, offer employees substantial savings over almost all traditional insurance plans, and that these plans protect enrollees against high costs as well or better than most other plans. Savings for families in several more popular plans will average $2,000 or more when switching to some of these plans, such as those sponsored by NALC, GEHA, APWU, Aetna, and MHBP.
- Customer Satisfaction: Some plans have been less likely than others to be involved in claims disputes with their enrollees. For example, the Blue Cross, Foreign Service, and SAMBA plans have only about four to nine disputed claims for each 10,000 enrollees, whereas many other plans have dispute rates over twice that high.
- Medicare Part B: The Guide also shows the effects of Medicare Part B enrollment on both premium and out-of-pocket costs to annuitants. Some plans make enrollment in Part B much less expensive than others. In almost all cases, the Aetna Direct CDHP and CareFirst and MHBP High Deductible plans are best buys for annuitants with parts A and B of Medicare, but the Blue Cross Basic plan has a new Medicare premium rebate that puts it close behind.
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