Posted on Thursday, 19th October 2017 by

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Many annuitants change to a lower cost FEHB plan because most plans waive the majority of the deductibles, copayments, and coinsurance payments when you sign up for Medicare Part A & B.

One of our newsletter subscribers contacted me about the change to Blue Cross Blue Shield Basic for 2018.  The FepBlue.org site states, “If you have the Basic Option, you can get a $600 Medicare Reimbursement Account (RMA) if you have Medicare Part A and B. You must use this account to pay your Medicare Part B premium. Each member on your contract with Medicare Part A and B is eligible to earn $600. ”  That’s $1200 a year for a Self Plus One enrollment when both have Medicare! To obtain the reimbursement you must provide proof that you paid Medicare premiums in 2018 by submitting copies of your Social Security Checks, bank or COLA statements, or canceled checks.

Blue Cross Blue Shield will provide additional information about the RMA accounts later this month. I called their information number and the representative said they hadn’t published the specifics yet.

The Advantage of Signing Up for Medicare

When you sign up for Medicare they become your primary provider while your FEHB plan becomes the secondary. Medicare pays first and then your FEHB plan pays a portion if not all of the remaining bill for you. Most FEHB plans pass on those cost savings to their members by waving many of your deductibles, copayments and coinsurance requirements.

This time of the year those 65 or older receive many offers in the mail and on TV and social media for Medicare Supplement Plans. When you sign up for a Medicare Supplement Plan your only option is to cancel your FEHB plan, you can’t suspend coverage. I wrote two articles,  CAUTION – Don’t Lose Your FEHB Coverage and FEHB Suspensions that discuss the severe consequences a number of our readers suffered by doing so. The suspension article provides a detailed list of things you must know before making this move. Many Medicare Supplement Plan brokers don’t understand the FEHB program and end up selling you a product that doesn’t provide the comprehensive coverage you now have. If you know of anyone considering leaving the FEHB program forward this article to them.

Here are links to two provider’s Medicare Brochures:

This summary compares the 2018 premiums, significant changes, and discusses what to expect when you sign up for Medicare A & B. There are many other plans to consider. I used these two nationwide providers because BCBS has the most subscribers and GEHA has one of the lowest premiums for their standard plan.  You should also use OPM’s Compare Plans tool that will be available soon for 2018.

Costs

The GEHA Standard Self Plus One Plan charges $255.92 monthly, $3,071.41 a year while the BCBS Basic Self Plus One Plan charges $372.32 monthly, $4,467.84 a year; $1,396.43 more than the GEHA plan. However, if both members in the BCBS plan have Medicare A & B and establish a RMA account their annual costs decrease to $3,267.84, just $196.43 more than the annual GEHA costs.

There are other costs to consider. For example, you will find that BCBS Basic limits deductibles, copayment, and coinsurance waivers for Medicare enrollees to in network providers while GEHA Standard includes waivers for both in and out of network providers according to page 106 of their brochure plus they pay doctor visit copayments. According to the BCBS 2018 Pamphlet, page 146, You must use Preferred Providers in order to receive benefits” for the Basic plan and on page 142 it states, “Under basic option we will waive copayments and coinsurance for care received from covered professional and facility providers.” Here is where it does get complicated. When you are enrolled in Medicare you can go to any provider. Just be aware that some plans may not waive deductibles, copayments, and coinsurance fees for out of network providers and that can be expensive. Check Section 9 of your FEHB plan brochure to verify coverage.

Medicare Part B Premiums add to your monthly healthcare costs which for 2017 was as low as $134 to as high as $428.60 due to Medicare’s Part B income adjusted premiums.  Many paid less than the $134 last year, approximately $109, due to the hold harmless clause that prohibits Medicare premium increases when COLAs are very low. To qualify for the lowest Part B premium those filing an individual tax return must have a Modified Adjusted Gross Income (MAGI) of $85,000 or less and married couples $170,000 or less.  Gross Income (GI) is calculated before MAGI. Gross Income (GI) is total income earned through wages, dividends, interests, royalty and rental, business income, capital gains, and others. MAGI is calculated by adding back certain deductions such as tax free municipal bond and student loan interest, tuition, rental loss and IRA contributions to name a few.

Total monthly health care premiums for those on Medicare and enrolled in the Self Plus One plans featured in this article are listed below:

  • BCBS Basic ($372.32) GEHA Standard ($255.92)
  • FEDVIP – Vision & Dental Coverage (Varies depending on plan)
  • Medicare Part B ($134 per person for those without an income adjustment)
  • FLTCIP – Long Term Care (Varies considerably depending on plan)

For a Self Plus One enrollment the total cost for coverage would be $372.32 for BCBS, $134 times 2 or $268), plus the cost of your FEDVIP and FLTCIP. I pay $50 a month for FEDVIP plus $165 for FLTCIP for my wife and I. Here is what you would pay monthly using my cost for FEDVIP and FLTCIP assuming both signed up for Medicare B:

  • BCBS – ($372.32 + $268 + $50 + $165 = $855.32)
  • GEHA – ($255.92 + $268 + $50 + $165 = $738.92)

If BCBS members apply for and receive $600 each per year under a Medicare Reimbursement Account (MRA) their adjusted monthly costs would be reduced to $755.32.

My wife and I elected to retain our original long term care policy and accepted the major reduction in coverage last year. We each pay around $80 per month. Many feds pay considerably more for their long term care premiums.

2018 Major Changes

BCBS Changes

  • The significant change for BCBS Basic is the $600 Medicare reimbursement account (MRA).
  • When Medicare Part B is primary, your copayment for Tier 1 (generic) anti-hypertensive drugs obtained through the Mail Service Prescription Drug Program is now $5. Previously, your copayment for the Mail Service Prescription Drug Program was $20. (See page 106.)
  • Your copayment for Tier 2 preferred brand-name asthma drugs obtained at a Preferred retail pharmacy is now $35 for each purchase of up to a 30-day supply ($105 copayment for a 90-day supply). Previously, your copayment was $50 for each purchase of up to a 30-day supply ($150 copayment for 90-day supply). (See page 106.)
  • There are a number of other prescription drug changes for various tiers. (See page 16.)
  • Other changes are listed on page 16 of the brochure for the Basic plan and changes for the BCBS Standard and Basic plans are listed on page 17.

GEHA Changes

  • When you are enrolled in the Standard Option, your external hearing aid benefit has increased to $2,500 per person every three years if you are an adult, or $2,500 annually for your child up to age 22. See page 44. BCBS offers the same reimbursement.
  • GEHA will begin using the Advanced Control Specialty Formulary (ACSF) which may reduce your out of pocket costs but will limit your options for filling medication because they require step-therapy and adherence to a strict formulary. The ACSF requires you to use a preferred specialty drug before using a non-preferred specialty drug. The ACSF may change quarterly. Please see Section 5(f) Prescription benefits, page 78, for additional information concerning the ACSF.
  • There are a number of prescription drug changes for various tiers. (See page 15.)
  • Other changes are listed on page 15 of the brochure.

For a complete list of changes for both plans review section 2 of each brochure. Here are links to the two PDF files:

Observation

Most federal annuitants are hesitant to sign up for Medicare Part B due to the additional cost and what appears to be duplicate coverage. I personally know a number of retirees that are now paying large copayments and coinsurance fees because they didn’t sign up for Medicare Part B at age 65. In one instance, Pat the wife of a man I worked with for many years, is now in her late 70s. At age 65 her husband decided not to sign them up for part B. Pat called me 6 months ago asking if it was too late to sign up for Part B. She required full body scans that she was paying a $1700 copayment each time she had the scan done. She was also paying other high coinsurance fees.

Pat could still sign up however for each year she delayed signing up Medicare charges a 10% penalty and in her case it would have cost her 140% more for her coverage, over twice what a person that signs up for Part B at age 65.

If you review coinsurance and copayment costs within your current FEHB plan you can see where the costs could be prohibitive for major medical problems. For example, in the GEHA Standard Plan those who don’t have Part B would have to pay a $15 copayment for a PPO primary care physician visit; a $30 copayment to see a specialist for covered office visits and 15% of other covered professional services including X-ray and lab.  If the service is provided by a Non-PPO the member has to pay 35% of covered professional services.  If your procedure is at a Non-PPO and costs $5,000 you would be required to pay the first $350 deductable and then an additional $1,750, your 35% share of the costs. With Part B these fees are waived. Reference page 125 of the 2018 GEHA Plan Brochure.

Summary

There are advantages to researching your FEHB plan benefits when enrolled in Medicare. One of the advantages of the GEHA Standard Plan when compared to the BCBS Basic Plan is the fact that with Medicare A & B GEHA benefits are the same whether or not your provider is in their network. There are many other considerations to take into account when signing up for any plan. Those who use a large number of prescription drugs must review reimbursements to see which plan will cover the most and if you need special procedures ensure the provider you select offers the services you need. There is more to your selection than meets the eye. Take your time this open season to thoroughly review your options and costs.

Request a  Federal Retirement Report™  today to review your projected annuity payments, income verses expenses, FEGLI, and TSP projections.

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Disclaimer: Opinions expressed herein by the author are not an investment or benefit recommendation and are not meant to be relied upon in investment or benefit decisions. The author is not acting in an investment, tax, legal, benefit, or any other advisory capacity. This is not an investment or benefit research report. The author’s opinions expressed herein address only select aspects of various federal benefits and potential investment in securities of the TSP and companies mentioned and cannot be a substitute for comprehensive investment analysis. Any analysis presented herein is illustrative in nature, limited in scope, based on an incomplete set of information, and has limitations to its accuracy. The author recommends that retirees, potential and existing investors conduct thorough investment and benefit research of their own, including detailed review of OPM guidance for benefit issues and for investments the companies’ SEC filings, and consult a qualified investment adviser. The information upon which this material is based was obtained from sources believed to be reliable, but has not been independently verified. Therefore, the author cannot guarantee its accuracy. Any opinions or estimates constitute the author’s best judgment as of the date of publication, and are subject to change without notice. The author explicitly disclaims any liability that may arise from the use of this material.

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    Posted in BENEFITS / INSURANCE, ESTATE PLANNING, LIFESTYLE / TRAVEL, RETIREMENT CONCERNS, SOCIAL SECURITY / MEDICARE, SURVIVOR INFORMATION

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    Posted on Monday, 9th October 2017 by

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    Open season runs from November 13 through December 11 of this year however some providers already have their 2018 plan brochures available. GEHA sent me an email message listing a summary  of plan changes for 2018 and a link to their 2018 brochure! You can view the GEHA 2018 Brochure on their site and save a copy to your hard drive.  My wife and I are enrolled in the GEHA nationwide Standard Self + One plan and the monthly premium increased $5.02 to $255.92, a  2% increase over last year’s premium. All plan 2018 FEHB Premiums were published by OPM last week.  I selected the GEHA plan a year before turning age 65 to take advantage of their low rates and because GEHA waives the majority of deductibles, copayments, and coinsurance when you sign up for Medicare. Since turning 65 my wife and I haven’t paid any of these charges for our doctors visits or medical procedures.

    One of the significant changes to my GEHA standard plan in 2018 is their increased coverage for hearing aids, they now pay $2,500 every three years for new ones. I’m waiting to get a new pair until early 2018 when the increased coverage kicks in.  This is enough to cover good quality hearing aids from most vendors. I’ve been buying mine from Costco and am satisfied with their aids, costs and service. If I hadn’t had GEHA’s early release 2018 brochure I would have purchased my new aids this month. It’s a good idea to review you 2018 plan brochure as early as possible so you know what to expect and understand the changes that may have been made to your benefits.

    For comparison here are a few nationwide non-postal Self Plus One Basic Plan rates for 2018. Each entry includes the plan name, number, 2018 monthly costs, and the change from last year.

    • GEHA Standard (316) $255.92 +$5.02
    • Blue Cross and Blue Shield Basic (113) $372.32 +15.60
    • MHBP Value (416) $294.43 -12.26
    • AWPA CDHP (476) $304.93 +10.31
    • NALC CDHP (326) $251.06 No Change
    • View All Plan Rates for 2018

    If you will be signing up for Medicare soon read the following articles that explain how Medicare and the FEHB work together. You can also visit our site for general Medicare guidance. Many federal retirees that enroll in Medicare look for a lower cost plan to offset their Part B premiums. Plus, many of the FEHB plans waive most of the deductibles, copayments, and coinsurance when Medicare is your primary healthcare provider.

    I checked the Blue Cross Site however their 2018 brochures weren’t available on the date I posted this article. If you have Blue Cross and Blue Shield visit their Brochures and Forms Page to obtain a copy of their 2018 brochure. It should be available shortly. You can visit your provider’s site to obtain a copy of their 2018 brochure when released. Provider websites are listed in their brochures. OPM will post links to all plans by State, possibly later this month or at the latest in early December.

    At a minimum I review plan brochures of interest for the following:

    • Section 1 – How the plan works
    • Section 2 – Plan changes for upcoming year
    • Section 5(f) – Prescription Drugs
    • Section 5 – Benefits (Review sections of interest)
    • Section 9 – Coordinating benefits with Medicare
    • Summary of Benefits charts at the back of each brochure
    • New rates – back cover of brochure

    Take your time this open season to ensure you have the medical coverage needed for you and your family.  If you make the wrong decision or neglect to review plan changes you could end up paying considerable out-of-pocket costs in 2018.  Our FEHB plans, from my perspective, are superior to what many private companies provide.

    One of our site visitors works for a large corporation. After the previous administration implemented the Affordable Care Act (AFC) his company only provided employees with one option, a high deductable plan. Each time anyone in his family goes to the doctor he pays a $100 copayment. His wife recently went in for blood work and the copayment was $430 and when he took both of his toddlers to the doctors his copayment was $260. Every time he has anything done he pays huge deductibles and copayments. Prior to the AFC his monthly insurance premium was only $275 for family coverage and he had $25 copayments for most visits! He does have a health savings account but it doesn’t cover much of his yearly expenses.

    Request a  Federal Retirement Report™  today to review your projected annuity payments, income verses expenses, FEGLI, and TSP projections.

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    Distribute these FREE tools to others that are planning their retirement

    Disclaimer: Opinions expressed herein by the author are not an investment or benefit recommendation and are not meant to be relied upon in investment or benefit decisions. The author is not acting in an investment, tax, legal, benefit, or any other advisory capacity. This is not an investment or benefit research report. The author’s opinions expressed herein address only select aspects of various federal benefits and potential investment in securities of the TSP and companies mentioned and cannot be a substitute for comprehensive investment analysis. Any analysis presented herein is illustrative in nature, limited in scope, based on an incomplete set of information, and has limitations to its accuracy. The author recommends that retirees, potential and existing investors conduct thorough investment and benefit research of their own, including detailed review of OPM guidance for benefit issues and for investments the companies’ SEC filings, and consult a qualified investment adviser. The information upon which this material is based was obtained from sources believed to be reliable, but has not been independently verified. Therefore, the author cannot guarantee its accuracy. Any opinions or estimates constitute the author’s best judgment as of the date of publication, and are subject to change without notice. The author explicitly disclaims any liability that may arise from the use of this material.

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      Posted on Wednesday, 4th October 2017 by

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      FEHB Premium Increases

      The U.S. Office of Personnel Management (OPM) announced today that the overall average increase in total premiums for the 2018 Federal Employees Health Benefits (FEHB) Program will rise by an average of four percent. The new 2018 Federal Employee Health Benefit (FEHB) rates were published on October 4th. View the 2018 rates to determine your new monthly or biweekly rates. I’ll publish a comprehensive review of the rate and plan changes next week.

      FEMA Disaster Relief Jobs

      FEMA still requires assistance for the many natural disasters they responded to this year.  They need help processing disaster loan applications, specialists such as legal assistants, lawyers, paralegals, loan specialists, program support specialists, call center operators, customer service representatives, IT specialists, and admin support positions to assist those impacted by the storms. Federal retirees that apply should request a waiver during the application process of the general requirement that requires an offset between salary and annuity when reemployed by the federal government.  We posted an article titled FEMA Hurricane Disaster Jobs about these positions on our federal jobs board last week. You can review current Temporary FEMA Job Listings on USAJobs.gov and visit FEMA’s Temporary Employment Page for more information and directions on how to apply.

      Visit our Jobs Board for more employment opportunities for retired federal employees. Private companies, contractors, and state government departments use our Jobs Board to hire skilled federal retirees for part and full time positions nationwide. Many opportunities exist for those looking to supplement their retirement income or to start a second career.

      TRICARE Changes

      There are a number of changes to the military TRICARE program starting January 1, 2018 including TRICARE Standard and TRICARE Extra will become the new TRICARE Select plan. If you have TRICARE coverage review all of the changes at the TRICARE website.

      TSP Alert Follow-up

      I received a number of questions about the TSP program after my last article was published and I prepared a list of links to answer the many questions our readers have about the TSP program, especially what to do when you retire.

      One of our site visitors and newsletter subscribers wrote to thank us for saving their children significant future tax liabilities. Don had recently read the article I wrote titled, TSP- Ways to Safeguard Your Heirs Inheritance. He said, “Thank you again for the wonderful work you do and for saving our family from what could have been a horrible mistake in our future financial planning, damaging our children’s economic future.”

      The following links to our website, the official TSP site, and my articles will answer many of your TSP questions:

      Request a  Federal Retirement Report™  today to review your projected annuity payments, income verses expenses, FEGLI, and TSP projections.

      Helpful Retirement Planning Tools

      Distribute these FREE tools to others that are planning their retirement

      Disclaimer: Opinions expressed herein by the author are not an investment or benefit recommendation and are not meant to be relied upon in investment or benefit decisions. The author is not acting in an investment, tax, legal, benefit, or any other advisory capacity. This is not an investment or benefit research report. The author’s opinions expressed herein address only select aspects of various federal benefits and potential investment in securities of the TSP and companies mentioned and cannot be a substitute for comprehensive investment analysis. Any analysis presented herein is illustrative in nature, limited in scope, based on an incomplete set of information, and has limitations to its accuracy. The author recommends that retirees, potential and existing investors conduct thorough investment and benefit research of their own, including detailed review of OPM guidance for benefit issues and for investments the companies’ SEC filings, and consult a qualified investment adviser. The information upon which this material is based was obtained from sources believed to be reliable, but has not been independently verified. Therefore, the author cannot guarantee its accuracy. Any opinions or estimates constitute the author’s best judgment as of the date of publication, and are subject to change without notice. The author explicitly disclaims any liability that may arise from the use of this material.

       

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        Posted in BENEFITS / INSURANCE, EMPLOYMENT OPTIONS, ESTATE PLANNING, FINANCE / TIP, LIFESTYLE / TRAVEL, RETIREMENT CONCERNS, SURVIVOR INFORMATION

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        Posted on Monday, 18th September 2017 by

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        The SEC’s Office of Investor Education and Advocacy (OIEA) and Broker-Dealer Task Force issued an investor alert this summer warning the more than 5 million Thrift Savings Plan (TSP) participants, and investors in other federal government employee retirement plans, that investment scam artists may pretend to be affiliated with a government agency.

        Legitimate companies will mention they aren’t affiliated with the government on their website, blog, email or mailed flyer. I advise site visitors on our about and contact pages that we are not affiliated with any federal entity and that is sound business practices. I further advise our site visitors and email newsletter subscribers to check with their personnel office or with OPM for retirees because benefit and TSP rules and regulations or processes change.

        According to the SEC, “Federal government agencies, including the SEC, do not endorse or sponsor any particular securities, issuers, products, services, professional credentials, firms, or individuals.”  

        If someone offers you an investment opportunity and claims any affiliation with the federal government, the SEC suggests that you follow these tips:

        • Do not trust any contact information or a website provided by someone contacting you with an investment idea when that person claims to be affiliated with the government, the TSP, or government retirement plans.
        • According to the agency that administers the TSP, the TSP will never contact you by email, telephone, or mail asking you to provide sensitive personal information such as your account number, Social Security number, password, or PIN.
        • You can confirm that a seller is not affiliated with a government agency by contacting the agency directly or calling the SEC’s toll-free investor assistance line at (800) 732-0330.
        • Always be cautious about providing personal information to anyone you do not personally know.

        It goes without saying that the above tips apply in most situations. For example, I receive many unsolicited calls both personal and for business, and I’m put on alert the minute they ask for personal information. I refuse to provide any personal information unless I have an established relationship with them and even then I’m cautious.

        I receive many solicitations by phone asking for contributions and I’m sure some of the calls, if not the majority, actually come from a valid charity or political party. Even if I’ve given them funds in the past, such as any of the major charities, I refuse to contribute to their cause over the phone. How does anyone know who is really on the other end of the call. If I decide to contribute I ask them to send their request through the mail. When I receive the mailing I can then check to ensure it  has come from a legitimate source.

        The SEC recently brought an enforcement action against a group that fraudulently induced federal employees to roll over funds from their TSP accounts into privately issued variable annuities. The defendants allegedly failed to disclose that this “option” involved investing with a third party that had no government affiliation.

        Online Data Breaches (Caution)

        Today we must proceed with caution for many reasons. Recently, the credit reporting firm Equifax reported a major data breach that could potentially affect 143 million US consumers. Considering that the  population of the United States is around 324 million this data breach could end up affecting 44 percent of the population!

        Equifax reported the data included names, birth dates, Social Security numbers, addresses and some driver’s license numbers!  As many as 209,000 U.S. credit card numbers were also obtained, in addition to certain other information for approximately 182,000 U.S. consumers.

        It seems that computer system security breaches are commonplace today to the point that when we hear about them it’s almost matter of fact.  These security failures can put our finances at risk and there are things we can all do to protect ourselves short of cutting the automation cord altogether. I’ve often commented on the fact that we are all too connected today and reliant on automation.

        I’ve started to change all of our passwords, and there are many. Passwords for our bank and investment accounts, first and foremost. I’m reviewing our bank, credit card, and investment reports closely looking for anomalies, small unrecognized transactions that would normally be passed over during a review.

        Many think of account security breaches as events where the criminals wipe out your account overnight and you wake up BROKE! That isn’t generally the case. What I understand happens is the culprits review your account and look for average charges. For example, if your average charge is $35 they process one or two each month for that amount realizing we are all busy and generally won’t notice the small average charges. If they do this to 1 million accounts just think of the huge amount they collect monthly! Review your account statements and if you suspect anything call the credit card company immediately and have them send out a new card and deactivate the old number.

        There are a number of excellent articles out there on how to protect yourself including Your Guide to Surviving the Equifax Data Breach (CNET). It provides a five step process to follow.

        Request a  Federal Retirement Report™  today to review your projected annuity payments, income verses expenses, FEGLI, and TSP projections.

        Helpful Retirement Planning Tools

        Distribute these FREE tools to others that are planning their retirement

        Disclaimer: Opinions expressed herein by the author are not an investment or benefit recommendation and are not meant to be relied upon in investment or benefit decisions. The author is not acting in an investment, tax, legal, benefit, or any other advisory capacity. This is not an investment or benefit research report. The author’s opinions expressed herein address only select aspects of various federal benefits and potential investment in securities of the TSP and companies mentioned and cannot be a substitute for comprehensive investment analysis. Any analysis presented herein is illustrative in nature, limited in scope, based on an incomplete set of information, and has limitations to its accuracy. The author recommends that retirees, potential and existing investors conduct thorough investment and benefit research of their own, including detailed review of OPM guidance for benefit issues and for investments the companies’ SEC filings, and consult a qualified investment adviser. The information upon which this material is based was obtained from sources believed to be reliable, but has not been independently verified. Therefore, the author cannot guarantee its accuracy. Any opinions or estimates constitute the author’s best judgment as of the date of publication, and are subject to change without notice. The author explicitly disclaims any liability that may arise from the use of this material.

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          Posted in ANNUITIES / ELIGIBILITY, BENEFITS / INSURANCE, ESTATE PLANNING, FINANCE / TIP, RETIREMENT CONCERNS, SOCIAL SECURITY / MEDICARE, SURVIVOR INFORMATION

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          Posted on Sunday, 3rd September 2017 by

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          The Federal Employees Health Benefits (FEHB) Open season runs from November 13 through December 11 of this year. The 2018 provider brochures should be uploaded soon and when they are released we will present a summary of the 2018 FEHB open season changes and premium increases. Hopefully, the premiums won’t skyrocket like they have and are in the private exchanges.

          The vast majority of active federal employees and annuitants appreciate their FEHB coverage. It’s important to choose plans that cover your current and anticipated healthcare needs for the upcoming year. During an open season it’s easy to just let it ride as they say. It’s working for me now so why put time and energy into researching other plans!  A normal response considering how hectic life is today.

          In preparation for this open season take time to contemplate you and your family’s overall health for the upcoming year. Will the kids need braces or other dental procedures like root canals and dentures that come with high coinsurance, deductable, and copayments? Are you or your spouse scheduled for a major surgical procedure that your current provider doesn’t cover sufficiently? Are hearing aids in your future? If so the coverage between providers is huge! Some pay next to nothing while others pay the entire $2,000 or more in costs. My GEHA FEHB provider increased their hearing aid payments from $500 every 3 years to $2,000 last year.

          Each plan brochure provides a Summary of Benefits behind the Index in the back of the guide for a quick comparison. Then turn to Section 5 (Benefits). Review and compare needed services between providers. For example, in the 2017 GEHA guide, hearing services are listed on page 44. They list what they will pay and the services covered. Look for plans that provide the most overall coverage in the areas needed. For those turning 65 and on Medicare, Medicare becomes your primary healthcare provider, review what your FEHB plan covers in Section 9 of each brochure. Often times if you sign up for Medicare Part A and B your FEHB plans cover the majority of your deductibles, copayments, and coinsurance. Don’t let the size of the booklets intimidate you. All provider brochures are required to use the same outline and format.

          Lots of questions and if you don’t have sufficient coverage you and your family could suffer financially.  This is especially true for those turning 65 and signing up for Medicare, a few missteps here can be catastrophic as I explained in previous articles.

          Now is a good time to make a cursory list of what healthcare services you anticipate needing in 2018. I know this sound simplistic; how can anyone know what illness or disease will impact their family. There are practical considerations, are your children approaching the age when braces are needed? If you are younger and anticipating starting a family you will need excellent maternity care or possibly fertility treatments that not all providers offer. if you are approaching retirement or retired, typically the older you are the more you need comprehensive medical services. I can attest to that first hand. If you or a family member have a known medical condition or your family’s medical history points in that direction it would be good to have the services needed available and affordable.

          The new plan brochures will be available within the next month or so. Order copies or review them on line to compare costs and services. A little effort now could save you and your family money and aggravation next year.

          Qualifying Life Events

          It’s important to know that outside of open season, you can enroll in the FEHB Program, change your enrollment, change to Self Only or cancel coverage only in connection with certain qualifying life events (QLEs).  The primary QLEs that permit enrollment or change in enrollment are:

          A change in family status:

          • Marriage
          • Birth or adoption of a child
          • Acquisition of a foster child
          • Legal separation
          • Divorce, and
          • Death of a spouse or dependent

          If any of these events happen in your life contact OPM to initiate the appropriate changes. There are certain time limits such as annuitants have 60 days to change their FEHB coverage after a move and there are other considerations. Review the article titled Qualifying Life Events – Don’t Lose Your Benefits to learn more about making FEHB changes due to a qualifying life event.

          Other events that impact your FEHB coverage include electing to go on leave without pay, being called up for active duty, OWCP status, turning age 65, etc. There are lots of things to consider, explore the impact of any changes you make to ensure you don’t lose coverage prematurely especially when you become eligible for Medicare at age 65.  Review CAUTION – Don’t Lose Your FEHB Coverage that discusses the pitfalls you must avoid when selecting Medicare plans. OPM also provides QLE details for each event on their web site.

          Observations

          Automation does tend to make many things easier. However, … that benefit comes with a learning curve, software updates, and constant contact and availability through iphones, email, and tons of social media in the foreground instead of the background of our lives where it belongs. Everywhere you go everyone is on their cell phones and tablets and these devices have invaded our homes as well.

          Can’t be too far from our iphone, got to review Facebook every hour to see who is doing what and where!

          It is disturbing when you are talking to someone and they are either reading their messages or typing like crazy on their iphone and you seem to be the distraction! Sometimes you just long for the days when you had a house phone and nothing else. When you simply turned on the TV and it came on instead of having to reboot it or wait for a smart TV software update to load. I vividly recall those peaceful times.

          Request a  Federal Retirement Report™  today to review your projected annuity payments, income verses expenses, FEGLI, and TSP projections.

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          Disclaimer: Opinions expressed herein by the author are not an investment or benefit recommendation and are not meant to be relied upon in investment or benefit decisions. The author is not acting in an investment, tax, legal, benefit, or any other advisory capacity. This is not an investment or benefit research report. The author’s opinions expressed herein address only select aspects of various federal benefits and potential investment in securities of the TSP and companies mentioned and cannot be a substitute for comprehensive investment analysis. Any analysis presented herein is illustrative in nature, limited in scope, based on an incomplete set of information, and has limitations to its accuracy. The author recommends that retirees, potential and existing investors conduct thorough investment and benefit research of their own, including detailed review of OPM guidance for benefit issues and for investments the companies’ SEC filings, and consult a qualified investment adviser. The information upon which this material is based was obtained from sources believed to be reliable, but has not been independently verified. Therefore, the author cannot guarantee its accuracy. Any opinions or estimates constitute the author’s best judgment as of the date of publication, and are subject to change without notice. The author explicitly disclaims any liability that may arise from the use of this material.

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            Posted in BENEFITS / INSURANCE, ESTATE PLANNING, FINANCE / TIP, LIFESTYLE / TRAVEL, RETIREMENT CONCERNS, SOCIAL SECURITY / MEDICARE, WELLNESS / HEALTH

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            Posted on Saturday, 19th August 2017 by

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            The 2017 FEHB open season will run from November 13 through December 11, 2017.  Each year Open Season runs from the Monday of the second full workweek in November through the Monday of the second full workweek in December. Health care services providers are required to submit benefit and rate proposals for the contract term beginning January 1, 2018 on or before May 31, 2017. OPM anticipates completing negotiations by mid August so we should have updates and new rates shortly. When they are published I will send out a message to all subscribers.

            OPM encouraged all carriers to thoroughly evaluate options this year with a focus on improving affordability, reducing costs, improving the quality of care, and protecting the health of their enrolled populations. Any proposed benefit enhancements must be offset by proposed reductions so that premiums are not increased due to benefit changes.

            OPM asked all providers this year to focus on the themes of:

            • Managing Prescription Drugs;
            • Ensuring Access to Care;
            • Population Health;
            • Alternative Payment Models; and
            • Plan Performance Assessment.

            From my perspective I can’t imagine that premiums won’t increase; I can only hope that they won’t be excessive. At least we can look forward to a small COLA increase this year that may be enough to offset any healthcare premium increases.

            Retiree Jobs Update

            Employers continue to aggressively recruit federal retirees and those soon to retire. A number of companies recently posted job vacancies on our Jobs Board and you will find new listings for part and full time listings at locations across the country. One company is looking for part time and full time electricians in Palm Desert, California, warehouse jobs in Columbia, MD,  customer service staff at Hilton Inns, sales and administrative positions at various locations. Other positions are posted for jobs including several work from home options. Visit our Jobs Board for complete listings with contact information.

            Private companies, contractors, and state government departments use our Jobs Board to hire skilled federal retirees for part and full time positions nationwide. Many opportunities exist for those looking to supplement their retirement income or to start a second career. We provide this free job listing service to companies that are seeking to hire experienced retired federal workers.

            What’s Coming Next

            I recently purchased two Ancestry DNA kits for my wife and I. I’ve been curious for years about my heritage especially since my father died when I was one and really never knew any of his side of the family. My wife’s mother told her frequently that she had Cherokee Indian ancestors and we wanted to know more about that as well. We should find out soon. We received notification that our DNA samples had arrived and will be processed in 6 to 8 week. When we get the results I’ll discuss the findings and describe just how easy it was to collect the DNA samples and follow the process. I couldn’t pass up the 20% off sale and in some cases they are offering free shipping.

            Request a  Federal Retirement Report™  today to review your projected annuity payments, income verses expenses, FEGLI, and TSP projections.

            Helpful Retirement Planning Tools

            Distribute these FREE tools to others that are planning their retirement

            Disclaimer: Opinions expressed herein by the author are not an investment or benefit recommendation and are not meant to be relied upon in investment or benefit decisions. The author is not acting in an investment, tax, legal, benefit, or any other advisory capacity. This is not an investment or benefit research report. The author’s opinions expressed herein address only select aspects of various federal benefits and potential investment in securities of the TSP and companies mentioned and cannot be a substitute for comprehensive investment analysis. Any analysis presented herein is illustrative in nature, limited in scope, based on an incomplete set of information, and has limitations to its accuracy. The author recommends that retirees, potential and existing investors conduct thorough investment and benefit research of their own, including detailed review of OPM guidance for benefit issues and for investments the companies’ SEC filings, and consult a qualified investment adviser. The information upon which this material is based was obtained from sources believed to be reliable, but has not been independently verified. Therefore, the author cannot guarantee its accuracy. Any opinions or estimates constitute the author’s best judgment as of the date of publication, and are subject to change without notice. The author explicitly disclaims any liability that may arise from the use of this material.

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              Posted in ANNUITIES / ELIGIBILITY, BENEFITS / INSURANCE, EMPLOYMENT OPTIONS, LIFESTYLE / TRAVEL, RETIREMENT CONCERNS, SOCIAL SECURITY / MEDICARE

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              Posted on Friday, 11th August 2017 by

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              Less than half of our newsletter subscribers are veterans. If this article isn’t of interest to you personally please forward to a veteran that you know or to a family member that served.

              Starting November 11, 2017, Veterans Day, all honorably discharged veterans will be able to shop online at all military exchanges. I’ve already shopped online at the exchanges because I was selected for the Beta test program and am impressed with how efficient and useful this service is.

              To qualify for participation in the Veteran’s online shopping benefit, you must be an honorably discharged Veteran of the United States Armed Forces. This includes the United States Air Force, Army, Navy, Marines and Coast Guard as well as the Air Force Reserve, Army Reserve, Navy Reserve, Marine Corps Reserve, Coast Guard Reserve and National Guard.

              This is quite a benefit considering that you will receive exclusive military pricing on name brand products, all purchases are tax free, with free shipping options. Veterans will also be able to apply for a STAR credit card and all purchases made with the card receive free shipping! The STAR card also earns reward points that can be applied to future purchases. You can also use any other major credit card however only purchases over $49 receive free shipping. Still a great deal.  Purchases from the exchanges can save veterans a lot of money when you consider there are no taxes and in most cases free shipping. They also match competitor prices.

              Your first step is to verify your military service at https://vetverify.org. They ask you for your date of birth, name, and the last four digits of your Social Security number. I received my verification confirmation immediately. According to the VetVerify site, “Only authorized customers can shop online exchanges. To validate eligibility, VetVerify needs the last four digits of your social security number, date of birth and last name to compare against the Defense Manpower Data Center (DMDC) database. If a match is not found with this information, then a full social security number will be requested to conduct a more detailed search.” Your military  records may not have been digitized yet so they recommend you begin the verification process now.

              This benefit does not provide access to on-base exchanges, you will only be able to shop online at the following sites:

              I was able to register and log into the Army and Air Force Exchange site after receiving my verification from VetVerify.org. I called their customer service and they said that all who register and are verified will be able to shop on their site starting November 11th.  When I tried to register for the Navy Exchange access they currently require a DOD ID number to register. This requirement should be removed by November.

              There are some limitations; you can’t purchase certain items such as cigarettes or alcohol, military uniforms, guns or ammunition.

              During my registration process I was randomly selected for their Beta program and was able to make my first purchase on shopmyexchange.com today. I didn’t apply for their STAR credit card yet so I did have to pay a small shipping fee of $4.95 because the order was less than $49. I ordered three men’s tee shirts, two Levi and one that says USAF Grandpa on it. They were only $8.00 each and I paid NO state 7% sales tax. The site is easy to navigate, well designed, has many bargains listed, and the order was a snap to enter and process using one of my personal credit cards. I look forward to buying more from the exchanges especially around the holidays.

              If you are a veteran sign up now, they made the veteran verification and exchange site registration process easy and I can attest first hand as to how nice it is to actually buy from the exchanges again. It’s been 44 years since I was discharged from active duty and last visited the BX.

              Request a  Federal Retirement Report™  today to review your projected annuity payments, income verses expenses, FEGLI, and TSP projections.

              Helpful Retirement Planning Tools

              Distribute these FREE tools to others that are planning their retirement

              Disclaimer: Opinions expressed herein by the author are not an investment or benefit recommendation and are not meant to be relied upon in investment or benefit decisions. The author is not acting in an investment, tax, legal, benefit, or any other advisory capacity. This is not an investment or benefit research report. The author’s opinions expressed herein address only select aspects of various federal benefits and potential investment in securities of the TSP and companies mentioned and cannot be a substitute for comprehensive investment analysis. Any analysis presented herein is illustrative in nature, limited in scope, based on an incomplete set of information, and has limitations to its accuracy. The author recommends that retirees, potential and existing investors conduct thorough investment and benefit research of their own, including detailed review of OPM guidance for benefit issues and for investments the companies’ SEC filings, and consult a qualified investment adviser. The information upon which this material is based was obtained from sources believed to be reliable, but has not been independently verified. Therefore, the author cannot guarantee its accuracy. Any opinions or estimates constitute the author’s best judgment as of the date of publication, and are subject to change without notice. The author explicitly disclaims any liability that may arise from the use of this material.

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                Posted in BENEFITS / INSURANCE, ESTATE PLANNING, FINANCE / TIP, LIFESTYLE / TRAVEL, RETIREMENT CONCERNS

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                Posted on Thursday, 27th July 2017 by

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                I vividly recall visiting my house parents room in 1959. My brother and I were in a home for boys and our house parents had just purchased a console color TV, the first any of us had seen, and it had a remote control! Each time she changed the channel you could hear the motor activate, quit an invention for its time.

                Times and circumstances have changed considerably since then. I’ve always been a history buff and I believe I missed my calling; I would have enjoyed digging up the past and exploring historic sites around the world had I had the opportunity. In one of my favorite books, John Adams by  David McCullough, a passage on page 32 states, “Adams’ father and mother lived no differently than had their fathers and mothers, or those who preceded them.” How reassuring that must have been to know that what lay ahead essentially is what came before you, little change and certainly far less stress and worry.

                Today, each new invention or automation improvement keeps us on our toes and we certainly can’t predict the future based on what transpired in the past like in John Adams time. Can you imagine telling our parents about a smart phone… Hey mom, I have a portable phone in my pocket, it’s also a TV… YES mom I can watch TV shows on my phone. Oh by the way it’s also a camera, movie camera, audio recorder, radio, calculator, watch, timer, GPS, and heart monitor. I can also pay our bills with it, deposit checks, and can use it to buy things at the store!!! Do you want one mom?

                That’s only a fraction of what the iphone can and does for hundreds of millions of us today. What can we expect tomorrow? How about autonomous – self driving – cars and trucks, space travel, solar panels powering homes, 3-D printing, and factories filled with robots… not filled with working people like in the past! WOW, our parents and grandparents would be amazed. We experience never ending changes in a constantly revolving world. It’s no wonder why we often want to step off the train and just appreciate our surroundings, marvel at the simpler things in life like our beautiful grandchildren, and reflect on just how hard it was for our parents that had little and yet did everything to nurture those who have spurred this evolution.

                Today life, in America, is so much better for everyone that works to make the things they desire happen. Circumstances won’t change overnight, like so many insist on today, it takes time, motivation, and a never ending desire to get to where you want to be. It is basically up to the individual and no one can make it happen for you, you have to be the catalyst in the equation… If you aren’t willing to put in the time and effort don’t expect miracles. They only happen in the movies.  It’s your choice and you will have to live with and accept the consequences either way.

                My father died in 1951 leaving my mother at age 37 with four small children, me being the youngest at a year and a half. My mother had a 6th grade education and struggled to make ends meet. I recently found a letter from Social Security in the early 1950s showing that she received a $30 monthly benefit for each child after my father died. We survived on that along with whatever work my mother could find which included working in a diaper laundry, envelop factory, housekeeping, and operating the old fashioned elevators you see in the 1930s movies to selling cosmetics door to door. I was, by necessity, a latchkey kid long before that term came in fashion.

                Many would consider my early life a disadvantage, for me it was motivating, rewarding, and well worth the sacrifices that we encountered. Starting out with less builds character and the desire to succeed at whatever you do. My mother, even with meager means did without everything to support her four children. She would save for months to buy things that we needed for school and I don’t recall us ever eating out, going to a movie theater, or taking vacations. We had what we needed, the love of a selfless mother and the necessities of life. Could many survive on that today?  I say, who could ask for more.

                I’m getting a little off track, yet I love to wander and muse about life in general. I started out marveling about a TV remote! What brought this bout of nostalgia on was a recent Comcast Xfinity cable upgrade.  We were losing service for brief periods each week and our TV picture wasn’t what it should be with HD service. Plus our bill was too high. I called Comcast about my concerns and they reduced our monthly bill, upgraded us to their new higher speed service, and changed out our main box and remote.

                The new remote is voice activated and with a verbal command you can change  channels, record a program, search for movies, etc. Now all we have to do is hold the talk button and say the channel or service we want. It works great and the new HD box provides a true HD picture, a huge improvement over the old CRT screens we grew up with.  Another HUGE advantage is that if you find a movie that you like that has already started you can press info and then select “Play From Beginning.” What an advantage. In the past you would have to wait for the next airing that could be months away. They also included STARS, HBO, and Showtime with our new 2 year contract! Call your cable provider and ask them to reduce your monthly bill and you too may be pleasantly surprised.

                For over two years now my wife and I have abandoned prime TV – CBS, NBC, and ABC – to streaming services such as Netflix, Amazon Movies (Prime), on demand, and premium channels. We became tired of the never ending stream of commercials, sometimes as many as 9 or more before returning to the program. After the endless stream of commercials ran you forgot the plot or what you were even watching. The main advantage is NO COMMERCIALS for the most part plus you have the availability of an almost unlimited amount of content. We typically watch an entire uninterrupted series. For example we watched “Party of Five,” a 1990s 7 season series and it took us six weeks or so to view the 140 episodes and again without any commercials. We watched the excellent series Midwifes on Netflix and we are now finishing the Game of Thrones from HBO. The Game of Thrones has a lot of nudity in it so be aware.  I and my wife would be embarrassed to watch this series with our adult children!

                CD Rates Rising

                Slowly but surely CD rates are rising selectively. You have to watch for special rates. The Clearview Federal Credit Union in Pittsburgh, PA is offering a 2% APY yield on 20-month certificates of deposit with a minimum investment of $1,000. It still seems low but by today’s standards 2% is better than you will get from almost any other financial institution. Some online banks are offering rates between 1 and 2% but they are few and far between. Check with your local credit union and if you are in Pennsylvania call the Clearview Federal Credit Union at 1-800-926-0003 to find an office in your area.

                Request a  Federal Retirement Report™  today to review your projected annuity payments, income verses expenses, FEGLI, and TSP projections.

                Helpful Retirement Planning Tools

                Distribute these FREE tools to others that are planning their retirement

                Disclaimer: Opinions expressed herein by the author are not an investment or benefit recommendation and are not meant to be relied upon in investment or benefit decisions. The author is not acting in an investment, tax, legal, benefit, or any other advisory capacity. This is not an investment or benefit research report. The author’s opinions expressed herein address only select aspects of various federal benefits and potential investment in securities of the TSP and companies mentioned and cannot be a substitute for comprehensive investment analysis. Any analysis presented herein is illustrative in nature, limited in scope, based on an incomplete set of information, and has limitations to its accuracy. The author recommends that retirees, potential and existing investors conduct thorough investment and benefit research of their own, including detailed review of OPM guidance for benefit issues and for investments the companies’ SEC filings, and consult a qualified investment adviser. The information upon which this material is based was obtained from sources believed to be reliable, but has not been independently verified. Therefore, the author cannot guarantee its accuracy. Any opinions or estimates constitute the author’s best judgment as of the date of publication, and are subject to change without notice. The author explicitly disclaims any liability that may arise from the use of this material.

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                  Posted in FINANCE / TIP, LIFESTYLE / TRAVEL, RETIREMENT CONCERNS, SOCIAL SECURITY / MEDICARE

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