Posted on Friday, 21st November 2014 by

Print This Post Print This Post
Share

Best Practices and the State of Audiological Care

In my June post, How to Manage Your Own Hearing Health Care, I discussed the steps that should be taken to enhance your hearing, including identifying and achieving your hearing goals. While setting goals may sound trivial, research has shown that following clinical best-practices (including goal-setting) improves your chances for a successful hearing outcome (Valente, Abrams, et al, 2006).

Despite the obvious benefits of clinical best-practices, and despite having a popular set of best-practice guidelines for audiology (Kochkin. et al, 2010), many audiologists still fail to provide essential hearing services. A large percentage of audiologists still fail to verify that hearing aids are set to the patient prescription, and many fail to set or measure hearing goals.

That’s OK, right? You’re in the hands of an expert … right?

Unfortunately this couldn’t be farther from the truth. Consumer Reports estimates that as many as two-thirds of hearing aids in the US are “misfit.” With such poor outcomes, and with the cost of hearing devices at a premium, is it any wonder why so many consumers put off visiting the hearing clinic?

Enter Hearing Tracker

One company has come up with a clever solution to this issue that should prove to be a win-win proposition for both consumers and providers. Meet Dr. Abram Bailey, a doctor of audiology, and graduate of Vanderbilt University. Dr. Bailey and his partner, Logan Lowell, a data scientist, founded HearingTracker.com, a website which helps consumers find hearing providers who adhere to best practices.

The company publishes an online directory of over 17,000 hearing providers throughout the United States – the largest directory of its kind – and provides intuitive tools for locating providers with positive customer feedback. HearingTracker.com also boasts the largest collection of online hearing aid reviews in the world, giving undecided consumers a place to investigate their options.

Information is the Key to Success

As much as he wanted to, Dr. Bailey realized that he could not change audiology “one patient at a time.” He realized that the key to changing hearing outcomes in audiology was to expose the good and bad in the profession, in order to help consumers make more informed decisions when selecting audiologists.

Many online resources provide tips and suggestions for “interviewing” audiologists – to improve your chances of finding someone competent. Visiting and interviewing multiple providers to find the right one sounds cumbersome and inefficient, especially in an era of abundant information. Dr. Bailey reasoned that if patient outcomes were published online, consumers could select community-vetted audiologists and more easily improve their chances for a success.

Where Can You Find Good Hearing Care?

Audiologists on HearingTracker.com are ranked based on customer feedback and patient-reported hearing outcomes, so consumers may readily find a provider with a proven track record. The site also reveals a provider’s educational background and professional qualifications, making it easier to find knowledgeable experts.

Looking toward the future, HearingTracker.com has begun the process of verifying the clinical protocols of providers on the site. The first step for a provider is to complete a best-practice survey, to show the site that he or she is providing essential services. To become fully-verified, the provider must also submit de-identified files for clinical review. One of HearingTracker.com’s staff audiologists personally reviews the files to ensure that all essential services are provided and documented.

It is hoped that this attention to detail will set HearingTracker.com apart from other online services, and help ensure the best possible hearing outcomes for consumers suffering from hearing loss.

Hearing Aid Consumer Reviews

HearingTracker.com currently hosts the largest number of authenticated hearing aid reviews anywhere on the internet. Consumers may browse hundreds of new hearing aid models and learn about the latest advancements. They may also narrow their search based on a number of important technological features, such as iPhone-compatibility or remote control functionality. If a visitor finds a hearing aid in the hearing aid reviews section, and wishes to discuss it with an audiologist, the visitor can be matched with a local expert on that brand.

Closing Thoughts

As a consumer, you have many ways to navigate the hearing health care system. A good first step is to consult an audiologist who takes the time to ask you about your hearing needs – at home, at work and while engaging in leisure activities – and who assesses your hearing issues using standardized best practices. HearingTracker.com may be worth checking out since it is a network composed of vetted audiologists whose reputations are on the line if you are not satisfied. If you give HearingTracker.com a try, be sure you let Dr. Bailey know how you like it. And feel free to email me as well: cccomptonconley@gmail.com.

Hopefully, through the efforts of Dr. Bailey, and other innovative thought-leaders in the profession, the day will come when all Americans will be able to obtain high-quality, standardized hearing health care

References:
Valente, M., Abrams, H., et al. (2006). Guidelines for the Audiologic Management of Adult Hearing Impairment. Audiology Today, 18(5)

Kochkin, S., et al. (2010). MarkeTrak VIII: The Impact of the Hearing Healthcare Professional on Hearing Aid User Success. Hearing Review, 17(4):12-34.

Cynthia Compton-Conley Ph. D. is a Board Certified Doctor of Audiology, Professor of Audiology, Hearing Industry Consultant and Host of the Hearing Loss Help Forum. Dr.  Cynthia is a retired Professor of Audiology who taught in the graduate school at federally-funded Gallaudet University for 32 years and retired in the CSRS system.  In 2013 she founded Compton-Conley Consulting.

Learn more about your benefits, employment opportunities, and financial planning issues on our site and visit our blog frequently at http://fedretire.net to read all forum articles.

Helpful Retirement Planning Tools Distribute these FREE tools to others that are planning their retirement

Visit our other informative sites:

Limits of Liability and Disclaimer of Warranty

We do not provide medical advice. This website and the information provided on this site are intended solely for consumer education. This website and its information services do not constitute the practice of medicine, nursing, or other professional health care practice and nothing contained in this website is or should be considered, or used as a substitute for, medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. Do not disregard, avoid or delay obtaining medical advice from your physician or other qualified health care provider because of something you have read on this website.  While the publisher and author have used their best efforts in providing information on hearing loss and associated hearing enhancement or hearing protection technology, they make no representations or warranties with respect to the accuracy or completeness of the content of this forum and Website, replies to site visitor questions, or prepared articles, and they specifically disclaim any implied warranties of merchantability or fitness for a particular purpose. The advice and strategies contained herein may not be suitable for your situation. You should consult with a physician or audiologist where appropriate. Neither the publisher or author shall be liable for any loss or any other commercial damages, including but not limited to special, incidental, consequential, or other damages.

Be Sociable, Share!

    Tags:
    Posted in BENEFITS / INSURANCE, RETIREMENT CONCERNS, UNCATEGORIZED, WELLNESS / HEALTH

    Comments (0)| Print This Post Print This Post

    Posted on Wednesday, 12th November 2014 by

    Print This Post Print This Post
    Share

    Each year I connect to OPM’s Federal Employees Health Benefits (FEHB) online services at https://retireefehb.opm.gov/Annuitant/. This service is devoted to Federal Retirees, Survivor Annuitants, or Former Spouse Annuitants. Annuitants can get a head start on open season and even print out their personal Open Season Health Benefits Guide long before receiving a mailed copy. Users can request copies of health plans of interest or you can view them online. I always request hard copies of the top 2 or 3 plans that I’m considering so I can sit down and review them at my leisure. In most cases you receive the copies in less than a week.

    You must register and then login in at the beginning of each open season. The second year I used this service I tried to log in with my previous years user name and password. That doesn’t work; each year you must register to access this information and you will need your “CSA” or “CSF” claim number to sign up.

    Open Season Online allows you to:

    • Chat with a Customer Service Representative using Live Help.
    • Send a webmail message which will be answered by a Customer Service Representative.
    • Review health plan brochures
    • Change FEHB plans
    • Connect to OPM Retirement Services Online to find out how to receive your IRS1099R, annual mailer, and other informational alerts electronically.
    • Go to https://retireefehb.opm.gov/mobile to access Open Season information via your mobile device.

    This service provides all of the information you will need to make informed decisions and make changes to your primary FEHB coverage. During Open Season, go to www.BENEFEDS.com to enroll or change enrollment in the Federal Employees Dental and Vision Insurance Program (FEDVIP). BENEFEDS is a secure enrollment website sponsored by OPM. If you do not have access to a computer, call BENEFEDS at 1-877-888-FEDS (1-877-888-3337), TTY number 1-877-889-5680.

    Logging On (Registration):

    When you first register to access FEHB Open Season Online, you must enter your CSA or CSF claim number’s seven characters. Refer to the Annuitant’s Guide that you received from OPM shortly after retiring if you don’t know your claim number. Your claim number would also be listed on your Retirement Services Reference Card that OPM is suppose to send out shortly after retiring. If you haven’t received this card you can request a copy from OPM. The claim number on the card begins with an “A” and ends with a zero “0”. A surviving spouse’s claim number begins with an “F” and ends with a “W”. Don’t use the suffix and prefix when registering for this service. Unlike OPM’s Retirement Services Online that Herb Casey discussed in a previous column you don’t use the prefix and suffix to register for FEHB Online.

    You will then be asked for the last four digits of your SSN and to establish a user name and password that will be good for the current open season. Your password must have at least one capital and lower case letter plus one of 4 characters. You must register again for each new open season.

    Please note: If you do not know your annuity claim number it may be possible for you to register with your email address that is on file with OPM.

    Main Menu:

    The main menu provides the annuitant’s FEHB Profile, a list of twelve menu selections, and they ask you to verify your address, birth date, phone number, and email address. You can make changes to your profile and there is a “Change Plan” button that you can use to change to another plan.

    Under the FEHB Profile, you can review the effective date of your 2015 plan, the plan name, enrollment code, coverage, and the 2014 and 2015 monthly rates for comparison. They also caution you that if you perform a health benefits enrollment change, your new health benefits coverage information will not be immediately updated on this page. The information will be displayed when OPM reports your enrollment change to your new health benefits provider.

    Caution: If you are not making an enrollment change but need to update your dependent information, please contact your Health Benefit Plan Provider to make this change.

    Site Features:

    Once you register or sign in, you can select from the following:

    • Make an enrollment change or reenroll
    • Review Dependent Information
    • Review health plan brochures
    • Review information on canceling/suspending your enrollment
    • Review information on paying your health benefit premiums directly to OPM
    • Review the Open Season Guide to Federal Benefits (RI 70-9)
    • Perform an address change
    • Provide or Update your email address
    • View frequently asked questions
    • Review an Open Season Health Benefits Guide
    • Review the Health Benefits Election Form
    • Review the Open Season Guide to Federal Benefits for Former Spouses (RI 70-5)
    • View Transaction History
    • Go to OPM’s Comparison Tool
    • Log Off

    I’ve used this service since its inception and it makes it easy to compare costs and change plans if desired. It is actually easier for me as a retiree to get plan brochures and information than when I was working full time.

    Forward this article to others that you know who will benefit from this information and print a copy for you FEHB file.

    Learn more about your benefitsemployment, and financial planning issues on our site and visit our Blog frequently at http://fedretire.net to read all forum articles.

    Helpful Retirement Planning Tools Distribute these FREE tools to others that are planning their retirement

    Visit our other informative sites

    The information provided may not cover all aspect of unique or special circumstances, federal regulations, medical procedures, and financial information are subject to change. To ensure the accuracy of this information, contact relevant parties and ask them to review your official personnel file and circumstances concerning this issue. Retirees can contact the OPM retirement center. Our article is not intended nor should it be considered investment advice and our articles and replies are time sensitive. Over time, various dynamic economic factors relied upon as a basis for this article may change. The advice and strategies contained herein may not be suitable for your situation and this service is not affiliated with OPM or any federal entity. You should consult with a financial, medical or human resource professional where appropriate. Neither the publisher or author shall be liable for any loss or any other commercial damages, including but not limited to special, incidental, consequential, or other damages.

    Be Sociable, Share!

      Posted in BENEFITS / INSURANCE, LIFESTYLE / TRAVEL, RETIREMENT CONCERNS, SURVIVOR INFORMATION

      Comments (0)| Print This Post Print This Post

      Posted on Friday, 7th November 2014 by

      Print This Post Print This Post
      Share

      Do you need to start, change or stop federal or state income tax withholdings; change your mailing address, start or change the direct deposit of your payment; or view a statement describing your annuity payment. If so, it’s easy with OPM’s Retirement Services Online (SOL) www.servicesonline.opm.gov. You can have access to your annuity payment actions anywhere and anytime. You can use SOL if you receive benefits under the Civil Service Retirement System (CSRS), Federal Employees Retirement System (FERS) or FERS Special, or the Organization Retirement and Disability System (ORDS).

      To access Services Online, you need your “CSA” or “CSF” claim number and a password. If you have lost or forgotten your SOL password, you may request a new password selecting the Forgot Claim Number/Password from the Services Online Home page within the Login box. You can also request a password by Email at retire@opm.gov. If your account has not been accessed within a 15 month period, you must contact the Retirement Operations Center at 1-888-767-6738.

      Logging On:

      When you log in to Services Online, you must enter nine characters from your claim number, with both a prefix and suffix. If you are retired, you received a Retirement Services Reference Card with your name and claim number. The claim number begins with an “A” and ends with a zero “0”. For example: A22222220 . If you are a surviving spouse, the claim number begins with an “F” and ends with a “W”. Therefore you will enter “F” and the seven numbers and the suffix. For example: F2222222W. If you are a widower, and have been receiving benefits for many years, your claim number may end with an “X”. Therefore, you will enter “F” and the seven numbers and the suffix, “X”. For example: F2222222X.

      Please note: You must disable any software application that prevents secondary windows from opening and you must have JavaScript enabled. Your browser must also support strong (128 bit) encryption. See Using Services Online for additional Log in Help.

      Main Menu:

      Once you’ve logged in you will see the Main Menu. The Main Menu is divided into 3 sections:

      • Annuity Payment Actions,
      • Miscellaneous and
      • Related Pages or Sites.

      Under Annuity Payment Actions, you can select any of the links for annuity payment adjustment you are making or to change Federal/State Tax withholdings and allotments. You can also view and print your annuity statement and 1099-R Tax Forms. Under Miscellaneous, you can change your password, verify your Life Insurance and see a history of annuity payment adjustments you have made using the website. Related Pages or Sites allow you to select links to other related websites or pages. However, if you select any of these links you will leave Services Online and will be required to enter your claim number and password again to access Services Online.
      Below are some of the most frequently used features of Service Online.

      Annuity Statement

      The annuity statement shows your annuity payment, including the gross amount, up to 35 possible deductions or additions, and the net amount. You may select to view and print an annuity statement for each of the past fourteen months. Pick the month of the statement you wish to see from the list and press the Go button. If you wish to print a statement, press Print and follow any instructions on your computer.

      Checking and Savings Allotments

      Checking and savings allotments are voluntary deductions for allotments sent by direct deposit to an account held in the name of the annuitant. You may have up to two allotments and they must be maintained at a domestic financial institution. The allotment must be for a minimum of $50.
      You can start, change, or stop an allotment to a checking or savings account. To start or change an allotment, you need your financial institution’s routing number. You will also need your account number and the type of account. To start an allotment, pick the Start button. To change an allotment, pick the Change button in the field which shows the detailed information about the allotment. To stop an allotment, pick the Stop button in the field which shows the detailed information about the allotment.

      Federal Income Tax Withholding

      Generally, unless you specify a monthly withholding amount, OPM withholds Federal Income Tax as if you are married and claiming three allowances. You can use OPM’s calculator on www.opm.gov/retire to figure the amount of your monthly Federal Income Tax withholding based on marital status and exemptions. Then, use Services Online to change the Federal Income Tax withheld from your annuity payment.

      Start or change the withholding each month by entering the new amount you want withheld in the box labeled, “New Deduction Amount”, and selecting the Save button. Generally, OPM authorizes payments in the middle of the month that are due for the first business day of the following month. If you want your change to be reflected in your next month’s payment, you should submit your request before the last date, as shown in OPM’s payment schedule, for changing that month’s payment. You will be notified of the effective date of your change.

      State Income Tax Withholding

      You can start, change, or stop your State Income Tax withholding anytime. The amount must be in whole dollars and at least $5. You can change from one State to another for State income tax withholding purposes but, you cannot withhold for more than two States in a tax year on the website. Start or change the withholding by entering the new amount you want withheld each month in the box labeled, “New Deduction Amount”. Pick the State from those listed, then press the save button.

      View/Print 1099-R Tax Forms

      You may use the website to ask for a duplicate statement for the current filing year. It will be sent to you by regular mail. If you need a statement for a prior year, you will need to contact OPM.

      View History

      You can view a history of the changes you have made using the website during the last 14 months.

      View the Status of Your Case

      You can view the status of your case while in interim pay status.

      View your Current Federal Employees Group Life Insurance (FEGLI) Coverage

      You can view and print your current FEGLI coverage. While you can see your coverage amount, you will not be able to see your FEGLI designation of beneficiary election. If you are not sure who you designated as your beneficiary, or you have had a significant life change, such as a marriage, divorce, or death, you may want to consider completing a new designation of beneficiary form.

      Keep Connected

      With so many transactions available, you can manage your retirement account whenever it is convenient for you. You can also participate in customer satisfaction surveys to let OPM know about your experience using the system. You can opt in to receive SOL information electronically from OPM. It allows you to get information quicker than in a hard copy format. To opt in, click on the Update Email Address/Opt in to Receive Information Electronically link on the main menu. You will then be asked for your email address.

      You can also follow OPM on Twitter at www.twitter.com/fedretireinfo and Facebook at
      https://www.facebook.com/USOPM.

      Learn more about your benefitsemployment, and financial planning issues on our site and visit our Blog frequently at http://fedretire.net to read all forum articles.

      Helpful Retirement Planning Tools Distribute these FREE tools to others that are planning their retirement

      Visit our other informative sites

      The information provided may not cover all aspect of unique or special circumstances, federal regulations, medical procedures, and financial information are subject to change. To ensure the accuracy of this information, contact relevant parties and ask them to review your official personnel file and circumstances concerning this issue. Retirees can contact the OPM retirement center. Our article is not intended nor should it be considered investment advice and our articles and replies are time sensitive. Over time, various dynamic economic factors relied upon as a basis for this article may change. The advice and strategies contained herein may not be suitable for your situation and this service is not affiliated with OPM or any federal entity. You should consult with a financial, medical or human resource professional where appropriate. Neither the publisher or author shall be liable for any loss or any other commercial damages, including but not limited to special, incidental, consequential, or other damages.

      Be Sociable, Share!

        Posted in ANNUITIES / ELIGIBILITY, BENEFITS / INSURANCE, RETIREMENT CONCERNS, SURVIVOR INFORMATION

        Comments (0)| Print This Post Print This Post

        Posted on Wednesday, 22nd October 2014 by

        Print This Post Print This Post
        Share

        According to John Church with the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) the 2015 COLA will be 1.7%. This is the low range of what many projected of between 1.7 to 2%. We updated our COLA charts this morning to reflect this change and we post all COLAs back to 1999.

        If your annuity is $2,500 a month you can expect an increase of $35 per month or $420 per year! What will we spend this windfall on? Considering that our health care coverage is increasing an average of 3.2% in 2015 much if not all of the increase for many will go to pay our health care premiums. My wife and I subscribe to the Blue Cross and Blue Shield Basic plan which will increase to $321.67 per month, an additional $12.37 per month.

        The 2015 COLA is .2% more than last year’s 1.5% and the same increase that we received in 2013. Unfortunately for working federal employees our COLA is .7% higher than what their pay raise is estimated to be.

        FEHB Updates

        Herb Casey, our Benefits and HR Forum Host, wrote an excellent article titled “It’s FEHB Open Season Time” that you will find informative. It mentions a number of things that you need to consider this year when selecting your 2015 plan. We are still waiting for all of the information to be released and will update our FEHB pages as soon as they are available. They have announced the 2015 FEHB premiums so you can begin to look at options and what you can expect to pay next year.

        There are major issues to consider this year for many. For example, in our area, Blue Cross and Blue Shield has dropped UPMC physicians and hospitals from their preferred provider network. My wife uses UPMC facilities and doctors so we were initially concerned that we would have to change plans.

        Fortunately the two parties entered into a reciprocal agreement and there are exceptions for Senior Care, under for what is termed Access for Vulnerable Populations, and for circumstances where a patient requires Continuation of Care. Anyone who is 65 and older will still be able to use UPMC doctors as preferred providers. If you have an existing condition at any age you will be able to remain with that physician and receive treatment for your care. The physicians under these circumstances will be considered by Blue Cross and Blue Shield to be in their network and UPMC has agreed to accept their negotiated fees.

        Stay tuned for more information as it is released. Open season is fast approaching, November 10, 2014 – December 8, 2014, and there is a lot to consider.

        Learn more about your benefitsemployment, and financial planning issues on our site and visit our Blog frequently at http://fedretire.net to read all forum articles.

        Helpful Retirement Planning Tools Distribute these FREE tools to others that are planning their retirement

        Visit our other informative sites

        The information provided may not cover all aspect of unique or special circumstances, federal regulations, medical procedures, and financial information are subject to change. To ensure the accuracy of this information, contact relevant parties and ask them to review your official personnel file and circumstances concerning this issue. Retirees can contact the OPM retirement center. Our article is not intended nor should it be considered investment advice and our articles and replies are time sensitive. Over time, various dynamic economic factors relied upon as a basis for this article may change. The advice and strategies contained herein may not be suitable for your situation and this service is not affiliated with OPM or any federal entity. You should consult with a financial, medical or human resource professional where appropriate. Neither the publisher or author shall be liable for any loss or any other commercial damages, including but not limited to special, incidental, consequential, or other damages

         

        Be Sociable, Share!

          Posted in ANNUITIES / ELIGIBILITY, BENEFITS / INSURANCE, RETIREMENT CONCERNS, SOCIAL SECURITY / MEDICARE, SURVIVOR INFORMATION, WELLNESS / HEALTH

          Comments (0)| Print This Post Print This Post

          Posted on Friday, 17th October 2014 by

          Print This Post Print This Post
          Share

          Open Season for Federal Employees Health Benefits (FEHB) is just around the corner. Open Season runs from the Monday of the second full workweek in November through the Monday of the second full workweek in December. This year Open Season is November 10, 2014 – December 8, 2014.

          Federal retirees and their surviving spouses retain their eligibility for FEHB health coverage at the same cost as current employees. In order to carry your FEHB coverage into retirement, you must be entitled to retire on an immediate annuity under a retirement system for civilian employees (including the Federal Employees Retirement System (FERS) Minimum Retirement Age (MRA) + 10 retirement) and must have been continuously enrolled (or covered as a family member) in any FEHB plan(s) for the 5 years of service immediately before the date your annuity starts, or for the full period(s) of service since your first opportunity to enroll (if less than 5 years). The 5 year requirement period can include the following: the time you are covered as a family member under another person’s FEHB enrollment; or the time you are covered under the Uniformed Services Health Benefits Program (also known as TRICARE) as long as you were covered under an FEHB enrollment at the time of your retirement.

          Below are some frequently asked questions regarding FEHB for retirees.

          What are the FEHB enrollment types? Self only and self and family. (Note: OPM plans to implement the self-plus-one option effective January 1, 2016)

          What do Civil Service Retirement System (CSRS) and Federal Employees Retirement System (FERS) retirees have to do to change health insurance coverage?
          During the annual Open Season, OPM sends Open Season material to all those enrolled in the FEHB plus those who have suspended their enrollments to enroll in a Medicare-sponsored plan approved by the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS), formerly the Health Care Financing Administration (HCFA) and to enroll in TRICARE. The package will include an explanation of benefit changes for the next year and your new premium rate, but will exclude the health plan brochure.

          • OPM provides Open Season Express, an operator supported toll-free telephone service for retirees to call to request brochures, health benefits satisfaction surveys, and make enrollment changes using telephone technology. The phone number is 1 (800) 332-9798. (The line will be open in early November.)
          • OPM also provides information on their healthcare insurance plan information website. (As of 10/16/2014, the site still has 2014 plan information.)

          When will my Open Season change to the new coverage be effective?

          The effective date of the Open Season change for annuitants is always January 1.

          I am retired but my spouse is a current Federal employee. I have carried our FEHB enrollment for the past several years. If I cancel my FEHB enrollment to be covered by my spouse’s FEHB enrollment, will I be able to enroll in a Self Only enrollment in the future?

          Yes, you will be able to reenroll in the future because you are canceling your enrollment to be covered by another FEHB enrollment.

          I am retired but my spouse is not. I want to drop out of the FEHB Program for a year or two because my spouse has good free coverage from her employer for the both of us. Will there be any penalty?

          Normally, such a cancellation would be permanent. Annuitants cannot re-enroll in the program except under very limited circumstances, such as to enroll in a Medicare-sponsored health plan or TRICARE. Do not drop out of the program unless you are sure of being able to re-enroll.

          I want to change my FEHB enrollment to an HMO but I don’t live or work in the Plan’s area as required by that particular plan’s brochure. Why can’t I enroll in it?

          Most health maintenance organizations (HMO) restrict enrollment to an area where its doctors and hospitals are accessible. Although some HMOs do not have restrictions on where you live or work, please recognize that if you later find it is inconvenient to get to a plan provider, you may have to wait until the next Open Season to change plans.

          How can I find out the amount of my FEHB premium?

          The premiums for the FEHB plan you are currently enrolled in are in the brochure you will receive from your plan during the annual Federal Benefits Open Season. In addition, you can check OPM’s site for 2015 FEHB Premiums. The U.S. Office of Personnel Management (OPM) has announced the average premium rate for people covered by the Federal Employees Health Benefits (FEHB) Program will increase by 3.2 percent in 2015. That percentage is lower than last year’s increase of 3.7 percent. The average premium increase for the Federal Employees Dental and Vision Insurance Program (FEDVIP) will be 1.7 percent for dental coverage and average premiums for vision benefits will increase by 1.5 percent.

          I made an Open Season enrollment change. If I have to go to the doctor after January 1, which plan do I contact?

          As a retiree, your new plan becomes effective on January 1.

          I am an annuitant. I changed my health insurance in Open Season and have not received an identification card even though it is late January. What can I do?

          First, call your plan. If they tell you they haven’t received the paperwork yet, you may contact OPM at 1-888-767-6738 or retire@opm.gov. Before contacting OPM, have your annuity information ready: your name, civil service annuity number (beginning with CSA or CSF), phone number and address, and information about your plan, such as the carrier enrollment code.

          My retirement annuity keeps deducting for my old health plan even though I’m not enrolled anymore. How can I get the deductions to stop?

          To verify your current health benefits plan, contact OPM’s Retirement Office at 1-888-767-6738 or retire@opm.gov.The phone lines are open from 7:30 am to 5:30 pm (Eastern Standard Time). It is a busy phone number.

          I am a survivor annuitant. Can I change my FEHB plan?
          Yes, you can request an enrollment change during the Open Season.

          What is the Federal Employees Dental and Vision Insurance Program (FEDVIP)?

          The Federal Employee Dental and Vision Benefits Enhancement Act of 2004 authorizes OPM to establish arrangements under which supplemental dental and vision benefits are made available to Federal and U.S. Postal Service employees, retirees, and their eligible family members, and the law gives OPM broad contracting authority to leverage the purchasing power of Federal enrollees to provide comprehensive benefits with competitive premiums.

          How do the FEDVIP plans differ from the dental and vision benefits FEHB plans provide as part of the FEHB benefits package?

          FEHB and FEDVIP are separate programs. While some FEHB plans offer dental or vision benefits as part of their benefit package, only those carriers under contract to OPM are FEDVIP plans. FEDVIP plans offer comprehensive dental and vision benefits. FEDVIP is not part of the FEHB program, and it is different from any supplementary dental and vision product your FEHB plan may offer.

          Update on the Self Plus One option

          The effective date for the new Self Plus One enrollment type will be January 1, 2016. Therefore, the annual Open Season beginning on November 9, 2015 will include the Self Plus One enrollment type in the available enrollment choices. Unfortunately, this option won’t be available for another year. The Self Plus One enrollment type will cover the enrollee and one eligible family member.

          For more information on FEHB and the various plans, visit OPM’s FEHB site and Federal Retirement Net ’s site at http://www.federalretirement.net/fehb.htm .

          Learn more about your benefitsemployment, and financial planning issues on our site and visit our Blog frequently at http://fedretire.net to read all forum articles.

          Helpful Retirement Planning Tools Distribute these FREE tools to others that are planning their retirement

          Visit our other informative sites

          The information provided may not cover all aspect of unique or special circumstances, federal regulations, medical procedures, and financial information are subject to change. To ensure the accuracy of this information, contact relevant parties and ask them to review your official personnel file and circumstances concerning this issue. Retirees can contact the OPM retirement center. Our article is not intended nor should it be considered investment advice and our articles and replies are time sensitive. Over time, various dynamic economic factors relied upon as a basis for this article may change. The advice and strategies contained herein may not be suitable for your situation and this service is not affiliated with OPM or any federal entity. You should consult with a financial, medical or human resource professional where appropriate. Neither the publisher or author shall be liable for any loss or any other commercial damages, including but not limited to special, incidental, consequential, or other damages.

           

          Be Sociable, Share!

            Posted in BENEFITS / INSURANCE, RETIREMENT CONCERNS, SOCIAL SECURITY / MEDICARE, SURVIVOR INFORMATION, WELLNESS / HEALTH

            Comments (0)| Print This Post Print This Post

            Posted on Friday, 3rd October 2014 by

            Print This Post Print This Post
            Share

            So, what do you do with the funds in your Thrift Savings Plan (TSP) when you leave federal government service? You have two options. You can take a partial withdrawal which allows you to make a one-time-only withdrawal and leave the rest of your money in the TSP until a later date. You can also take a full withdrawal which allows you to withdraw all of the money from your TSP account. You can do it all at once (lump sum payment), over a period of time or you can purchase an annuity that will make payments to you for life. TSP allows you to choose any combination of these full withdrawal options. One of the full withdrawal options that few people know much about is the TSP Annuity option or “Life Annuity.”

            What is a Life Annuity:

            A life annuity is a monthly benefit paid to you for life. You are eligible to purchase a TSP life annuity if you are separated from Federal civilian employment or the uniformed services. You can withdraw all or part of your TSP account as a life annuity as long as the amount used to purchase it is $3,500 or more. If you have both a traditional and a Roth balance, the $3,500 minimum threshold applies to each balance separately. The TSP will purchase your annuity for you from its provider. The annuity provider is Metropolitan Life (MetLife). MetLife has been the provider for the TSP annuity program since it began in January 1988. No additional fees or commissions are charged, and your money is transferred to MetLife on a tax-deferred basis.

            Don’t confuse the TSP annuity with your retirement annuity that you receive when you retire as either a FERS or CSRS employee, or the retired pay that you receive as a member of the uniformed services.

            Types of Life Annuities:

            A life annuity provides guaranteed monthly payments for as long as you are alive. If you want a life annuity that pays benefits to a survivor, or joint annuitant, you have that option. If you want a guaranteed stream of payments for as long as you (or your joint annuitant) are alive, an annuity may be the right choice. You can use your entire account balance to purchase a life annuity, or you can use a portion of your account balance to purchase an annuity.

            The TSP, through its annuity provider, offers the following types of annuity options:

            • Single life annuity
            • Joint life annuity

            A Single life annuity is an annuity that provides monthly payments only to you as long as you live.

            A Joint life annuity is an annuity that provides monthly payments to you while you and the person with whom you choose to share your annuity (your “joint annuitant”) are alive. When you or your joint annuitant dies, monthly annuity payments will be made to the survivor for his or her lifetime. The amount of the payment while you and your joint annuitant are alive and the amount of the payment to the survivor depend on whether you choose a 100 percent or a 50 percent survivor annuity.

            If you choose an annuity that provides for a joint annuitant other than your spouse, the joint annuitant must be either a former spouse or someone with an insurable interest in you. This means that the person is financially dependent on you and could reasonably expect to derive financial benefit from your continued life.
            Two types of joint annuities are available:

            100 percent survivor annuity. The amount of the monthly annuity payment to the survivor is the same as the annuity payment made while both you and your joint annuitant are alive.

            50 percent survivor annuity. The amount of the monthly annuity payment to the survivor— whether the survivor is you or your joint annuitant — is cut in half (that is, cut to 50 percent) of the annuity payment made while both you and your joint annuitant are alive.
            If you name a joint annuitant other than your spouse who is more than 10 years younger than you, you must choose a joint life annuity with the 50 percent survivor benefit. The only exception is for a former spouse if required by a retirement benefits court order.

            Annuity Payment Options

            Once you have chosen either a single life or a joint life annuity, you must decide whether you want to receive level or increasing payments.

            Level payments. The amount of the monthly annuity payment remains the same from year to year. Thus, with a single life annuity, you receive the same monthly payment for as long as you live. With a joint life annuity, you receive the same monthly payment for as long as you and your joint annuitant are alive. The monthly payment to the survivor will depend on whether you have chosen a 100 percent survivor annuity or a 50 percent survivor annuity, but it will remain at the same level for the life of the survivor.

            Increasing payments. The amount of the monthly annuity payment can change each year on the anniversary date of the first payment. The amount of the change is based on the change in inflation, as measured by the consumer price index. Increases cannot exceed three percent per year, but monthly annuity payments cannot decrease. You cannot choose increasing payments when the joint annuitant is not your spouse.

            Additional Annuity Features That Allow for Beneficiaries

            There are two additional annuity features available: the cash refund feature and the 10-year certain feature.

            Cash refund. If you (and your joint annuitant, if applicable) die before the amount used to purchase your annuity has been paid out, the remaining amount will be paid to your beneficiary in a lump sum. This feature can be combined with either a single life or a joint life annuity, and with level or increasing payments.

            Ten-year certain. If you die before receiving annuity payments for a 10-year period, payments will continue to your beneficiary for the rest of the 10-year period. If you live beyond the 10-year period, you will continue to receive payments, but no payments will be made to a beneficiary when you die. This feature can be combined with a single life annuity with either level or increasing payments. It cannot be combined with a joint life annuity.

            How Your Annuity Is Taxed

            If you have a traditional (non-Roth) balance in your TSP account, the taxes on those contributions (and the earnings) are deferred until the money is paid to you. Therefore, the TSP annuity payments comprised of traditional (non-Roth) amounts will be taxed as ordinary income in the years when you receive them. If you have a Roth balance in your TSP account, those contributions were made after tax. Generally, the TSP annuity payments comprised of Roth contributions will not be taxed.

            Note: Your annuity payments are not subject to the IRS early withdrawal penalty, even if you are under age 55 when they begin.

            How Your Annuity is Calculated

            Your monthly payment is computed by the provider (MetLife) based on:

            • The amount of money you are using to purchase the annuity
            • Your age and life expectancy
            • Annuity features selected such as single/joint annuity and level/increasing payments
            • The annuity interest rate index. The interest rate index is 2.625% for annuities purchased in September and October 2014.

            Use the TSP’s retirement annuity calculator to estimate you monthly payments.

            Below are 2 examples for TSP single life annuities.

            Maria bought an annuity in July 2006 at 70, when the interest rate index was 5.625 percent. She used $500,000 to purchase a single life annuity with increasing payments and a cash refund. Her initial payment was $2,862 per month. Assuming Maria receives 3 percent annual inflation adjustments, her annuity will pay $3,735 in 2016.

            John bought an annuity in September 2014 at 70, when the interest rate index was 2.625 percent. He also used $500,000 to purchase a single life annuity with increasing payments and a cash refund. His initial payment was $2,400 per month. Assuming John receives 3 percent annual inflation adjustments, his annuity will pay $3,225 in 2024.

            As you can see, both invested the same amount with increasing payments and a cash refund. Because of the difference in the interest rate index in 2006 and 2014, John’s monthly annuity is $510 less than Maria’s annuity after 10 years.

            Advantages/Disadvantages of TSP Annuities

            Some advantages of a TSP Annuity are:

            • You receive a lifetime income.
            • If the interest rate index is high, you receive this rate for the life of your annuity.
            • You can protect your principal and allow for increasing payments.

            Some disadvantages of a TSP Annuity are:

            • Once purchased, you cannot make changes or stop annuity payments.
            • There could be little or no money left for your beneficiaries.
            • You can’t touch the money, once you’ve placed it in the annuity.
            • If the interest rate index is low, you receive this rate for the life of your annuity.

            You’re probably asking, what is the best thing to do. It may be better to wait and see what your needs are in retirement, basing the decision on the other sources of income (pensions, investments, job, etc.) you have. If you have enough income through these other sources, a TSP annuity may not be to your benefit. The TSP Annuity options give you a lot of flexibility with your future but your decision should be based on your situation.

            If you are interested in finding out more about a TSP life annuity, visit the Planning & Tools section of the TSP website http://www.tsp.gov. Also, TSP information can be found at http://www.federalretirement.net/tspconsiderations.htm.

            Learn more about your benefitsemployment, and financial planning issues on our site and visit our Blog frequently at http://fedretire.net to read all forum articles.

            Helpful Retirement Planning Tools Distribute these FREE tools to others that are planning their retirement

            Visit our other informative sites

            The information provided may not cover all aspect of unique or special circumstances, federal regulations, medical procedures, and financial information are subject to change. To ensure the accuracy of this information, contact relevant parties and ask them to review your official personnel file and circumstances concerning this issue. Retirees can contact the OPM retirement center. Our article is not intended nor should it be considered investment advice and our articles and replies are time sensitive. Over time, various dynamic economic factors relied upon as a basis for this article may change. The advice and strategies contained herein may not be suitable for your situation and this service is not affiliated with OPM or any federal entity. You should consult with a financial, medical or human resource professional where appropriate. Neither the publisher or author shall be liable for any loss or any other commercial damages, including but not limited to special, incidental, consequential, or other damages.

             

             

            Be Sociable, Share!

              Posted in ANNUITIES / ELIGIBILITY, ESTATE PLANNING, FINANCE / TIP, RETIREMENT CONCERNS

              Comments (0)| Print This Post Print This Post

              Posted on Wednesday, 24th September 2014 by

              Print This Post Print This Post
              Share

              Carolyn W. Colvin, Acting Commissioner of Social Security, announced on September 16, 2014 that the agency will resume the periodic mailing of Social Security Statements—once every five years for most workers– while encouraging everyone to create a secure my Social Security account to immediately access their Statement online, anytime. The Statement provides workers age 18 and older with important individualized information regarding their earnings, tax contributions, and estimates for future retirement, disability, and survivors benefits.

              Beginning in September, workers attaining ages 25, 30, 35, 40, 45, 50, 55, and 60 who are not receiving Social Security benefits and who are not registered for a my Social Security account will receive the Statement in the mail about 3 months before their birthday. After age 60, people will receive a Statement every year. The agency expects to send nearly 48 million Statements each year

              I signed up for a personal Social Security account about a year ago on http://www.socialsecurity.gov and when I turned 65 this year I signed up for Medicare through their site. The site is easy to use and you can track your benefits and review and print out your personal Social Security and Earnings Statement any time, it looks just like the one they use to mail.

              Last week I received a notice from Social Security about my Medicare part B premiums that will start later this year. Medicare charges an income-related monthly adjustment to your part B premium for anyone earning over certain limits. Social Security uses your income tax statement from 2012 (two years back), for anyone applying in 2014. If you had capital gains, made a major withdrawal from your IRA or converted your THRIFT or other retirement account to a ROTH in 2012 your reported income may increase your Part B premiums. The adjustment is anywhere from $42 to $230.80 a month over the standard $104.90 monthly premium.

              If you receive an Income-Related Monthly Adjustment Notice this year, and your income in 2013 was sufficiently lower to either reduce or eliminate the monthly income adjustment , you can file a SSA-44 Medicare Income-Related Monthly Adjustment Amount-Life Changing Event form with Social Security. You have to take a copy of your 2013 IRS 1040 to your local office or send in a copy with the form to prove that your earnings were less in 2013.

              COLAs and the 2015 Pay Raise

              The COLA is projected to be anywhere from 1.7 to 2 percent or higher for 2015. You can view a listing of all COLAs since 1999 on our site. Right now it looks like federal employees will receive a 1% raise again next year. The Federal Reserve and the administration has kept interest rates artificially low to fund the government debt and in essence the lower rates create a significant burden and tax on workers and retirees alike. I wrote an article on this subject that you may find worth reading tilted, Size Matters, Especially in Retirement and since I wrote this things haven’t improved. Actually the middle class income has dropped even more.

              Be Sociable, Share!

                Posted in BENEFITS / INSURANCE, RETIREMENT CONCERNS, SOCIAL SECURITY / MEDICARE

                Comments (0)| Print This Post Print This Post

                Posted on Friday, 19th September 2014 by

                Print This Post Print This Post
                Share

                During the first month of writing for FederalRetirement.net, I received a few questions on military buyback. I am surprised at the number of folks who either waited until right before their retirement or realized after they retired that they missed an opportunity to increase their annuities by paying their military service credit deposit. In general, the benefit of paying your military service credit deposit increases the number of years of civilian government service which increases your annuity. Paying it sooner versus later saves you money since you pay less interest. The topic of Credit for Military Service is very complex but I will explain some of the basics.

                What is Credit for Military Service? Typically, military service in the Army, Navy, Air Force, Marine Corps, Coast Guard and Commissioned Corps of the Public Health Service/National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration of the United States is creditable for retirement purposes if it was active service, which ended under honorable conditions, and performed prior to your separation from civilian service for retirement. A reservist who has been called for active duty and/or active duty training may also receive credit. (NOTE: when you perform annual active duty training service during which you are on military leave with pay from a civilian position, the period is credited as civilian, not military, service.) The credit is for military service performed on or after January 1, 1957 (also referred to as Post-56).

                Should I buy back my military service? One question that often comes up is “Should I buy back my military service?” It depends. If your active military service is not already being used towards a military retirement, chances are that buying back your military service will benefit your federal retirement. It will increase the number of years of service used for your annuity calculation thereby increasing your annuity. Buying back military service is optional.

                How much will it cost me to buy back my military service? If you are a FERS employee, the military deposit is 3% of the basic pay earned during the post-1956 military service. If you are a CSRS employee, the military deposit is generally 7% except for the earnings from 1999 and 2000, when the deduction rates were 7.25% and 7.4% respectively. If you transferred to FERS and have a CSRS component, you continue to be under the CSRS military deposit rules for service performed before the transfer.

                Is Interest Due On The Military Deposit? It depends. If you pay your military deposit within two (2) years once you are hired, you will not owe interest. After that point, you will pay interest per year on the military deposit you owe. (Please note: Interest is charged at variable market rates. See OPM’s retirement site for the rates. )

                How Long Do I Have To Pay The Military Deposit? The sooner you pay the deposit the less interest you will have to pay. Sometimes, the interest that has accrued is 2 to 3 times more than the deposit owed. If you delay making the military deposit until you separate for retirement, the deposit must be made, in full, to your employing agency before OPM completes adjudication of the annuity.

                How Do I Pay The Military Deposit?

                Step 1. Complete the RI 20-97, Estimated Earnings during Military Service, for each branch of the military you served and mail it to the appropriate military finance center with a copy of all DD Forms 214.

                Step 2. Upon receipt of the estimated military earnings, complete the SF 3108 , Application to Make Service Credit Payment (for FERS) or SF 2803, Application to Make Service Credit Payment (for CSRS). Provide the application with the RI 20-97 and all DD form(s) 214 to the HR office of your employing agency.

                Step 3. Your HR office will review your package for accuracy, calculate an estimate of the amount of military deposit, applicable interest due and send you instructions for making payments. You can make a lump sum payment or partial payments.

                Step 4. Once your deposit has been paid in full, you will receive proof of payment from your human resources office. Your SF 50 will be updated to reflect a change in your Retirement Service Computation Date (SCD). Remember to keep copies of all documents pertaining to your military deposit payment.

                Although each agency has HR personnel who specialize in retirement benefits, I understand from some of you that those individuals are not always knowledgeable of the military buyback process. If you do not get answers to your questions, don’t despair. Continue to ask your agency’s HR retirement benefits professionals for help. In addition, there are retirement sites such as FederalRetirement.net and OPM.gov that provide useful information on this topic. You should also take a federal pre-retirement seminar at least five years before retiring to ensure that you take advantage of the military service credit deposit if it applies to you.

                Additional information on credit for military service and detailed information on creditable service is available on FederalRetirement.net. Also refer to Chapter 23- OPM Service Credit Payments for Post-1956 Military Service  and Chapter 22- Creditable Military Service.

                Learn more about your benefitsemployment, and financial planning issues on our site and visit our Blog frequently at http://fedretire.net to read all forum articles.

                Helpful Retirement Planning Tools Distribute these FREE tools to others that are planning their retirement

                Visit our other informative sites

                The information provided may not cover all aspect of unique or special circumstances, federal regulations, medical procedures, and financial information are subject to change. To ensure the accuracy of this information, contact relevant parties and ask them to review your official personnel file and circumstances concerning this issue. Retirees can contact the OPM retirement center. Our article is not intended nor should it be considered investment advice and our articles and replies are time sensitive. Over time, various dynamic economic factors relied upon as a basis for this article may change. The advice and strategies contained herein may not be suitable for your situation and this service is not affiliated with OPM or any federal entity. You should consult with a financial, medical or human resource professional where appropriate. Neither the publisher or author shall be liable for any loss or any other commercial damages, including but not limited to special, incidental, consequential, or other damages.

                Be Sociable, Share!

                  Posted in ANNUITIES / ELIGIBILITY, BENEFITS / INSURANCE, RETIREMENT CONCERNS, SURVIVOR INFORMATION

                  Comments (0)| Print This Post Print This Post

                  google-site-verification: google7da01e5320bde85e.html Terms Of Use