Posted on Monday, 26th December 2011 by

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It has been a busy year; from changing FEHB providers to new business ventures, an operation, travels, and more.  One of the most significant for me and my wife was switching from Blue Cross Blue Shield Basic (BCBS) to the Government Employees Health Association (GEHA) Standard option during the FEHB open season. When I retired in 2005 we enrolled in the BCBS fee-for-service plan because our HMO wouldn’t cover us during our travels. Unfortunately, there was a rift between providers in the Pittsburgh area that may exclude many of our doctors from the BCBS plan so we had to make the switch. The plans are always difficult to evaluate; so many variables and possibilities that I spent many hours reading their literature and talking with both BCBS and GEHA customer support.

The long and short of it was that the GEHA standard plan, unlike the BCBS Cross basic plan, offers non-PPO coverage so no matter where in the country you end you have treatment options.  Another factor was that the GEHA plan, that includes expanded non-PPO coverage, cost only $210.86 monthly for Standard Option Self and Family compared to $285.42 for Blue Cross Basic self and family coverage, a $74.56 monthly savings or $895.72 per year! The apparent savings are elusive since there are no calendar year deductibles with BCBS basic and the GEHA standard plan has a $350 a year per person deductible.

One of the reasons that I didn’t switch to either the BCBS standard or the GEHA plans previously was the fact that I didn’t understand the co pay / coinsurance structure. After much reading and discussions with others in similar plans I decided that they were not a problem since all of the plans have similar catastrophic limits, even the BCBS basic plan.  I had surgery last year and ran the numbers to compare my costs under the new plan and with the lower monthly costs for the GEHA plan there was little difference.

The new OPM FEHB site at https://retireefehb.opm.gov made the change a snap. I registered on the new site, had brochures sent out, made the switch and received immediate verification unlike in the past when you had to send everything in by mail and wait for weeks to receive your confirmation.  I’m on the site now and can see that my new plan is identified and I was able to download a confirmation sheet to show to providers since my cards haven’t arrived yet.

We continue to grow and expand our retirement planning site and now have 6 forums that cover the following areas:

Our new financial planning forum and host is introduced in the following section.  We grow our site based on visitor input.  Your questions and comments have been very helpful and we found hosts that can address the major concerns and issues encountered by federal employees and retirees. Keep the input coming and let us know what we are doing right and when we need to go further to address all of our visitor’s needs.

Welcome Aboard  – Bringing in the NEW

I would like to introduce everyone to our new Financial Planning Forum hosted by Paul Risser. Paul’s first article titled Why Financial Planning is posted on line and his next article titled “What Beneficiaries Need to Know” is a must read for all retirees and federal employees planning their retirement. It discusses the many issues including legally, who is a beneficiary and the many variations thereof. You can add Paul’s column to your email newsletter list by clicking here and type in your email address.  Instructions on how to update your newsletter profile will be emailed to you.

Paul owns Risser Financial Services and he is a Chartered Federal Employee Benefit Consultant (ChFEBC). His years of experience helped him design an hour presentation, Federal Employee Benefit Basics, which explains annuity computations, FEGLI life insurance, and the TSP. He has presented this program for numerous federal agencies and also offers this program as a webinar.

Updates

  • FEGLI Rate Increases – OPM announced changes in premiums effective 1/1/2012 for certain Federal Employees’ Group Life Insurance (FEGLI) categories.  These include changes to premiums for Option B (most age bands), Option C (all age bands), and Post-Retirement Basic Insurance (for annuitants only). There will be no change in premiums for Basic Employee or Option A coverage.  Review the new rates for annuitants and employees on our site.
  • Retirements surged over 25% to over 100,000 last year according to OPM and retirement processing delays will continue due to the VERAs and VSIPs that will be offered by many agencies in the coming years.  My next article titled “Retirement Precautions, TSP Updates, and Retiree Jobs” talks about the many issues and OPM guidance that can be used  to prevent interim retirement check problems when you first leave federal service.
  • 2012 Pay Schedules postedDue to the pay freeze salaries remain at the 2010 levels. The pay freeze may be extended for up to 5 years under various bills proposed by Congress. More to come. OPM reported that the increase in retirements is partially due to the pay freeze.  You still earn more for each year if you aren’t maxed out but the high three salary is staying the same.
  • 2012 COLA – The Good News – Colas resume after a  two year absence for federal annuitants and Social Security recipients in 2012, 3.6% for CSRS and 2.6% for those in the FERS system. Review COLAs going back to 1999 and to determine how they are calculated on our site.  Since I retired in 2005 my CSRS annuity has increased by over 19% due to COLAs not counting any compounding.  If the adjustments to COLAs are weighted in the future as proposed they may be much smaller in subsequent years.
  • Helpful Smartphone Apps for Retirees and Caregivers – The Smartphone revolution is improving access to needed retiree services and information. There are (Apps), software applications, that you can download for free or for a small fee to help you manage everything from pain care and pill reminders, to elder care and more. The free Pain Care app tracks symptoms, side effects, and triggers for patients.  The information is available for your next doctor’s visit. For a list of apps visit (www.apple.com/iphone/from-the-app-store ) and search for the topics of interest.
  • Persistence pays off – Last June I purchased another year of extended service from a major computer manufacturer and online support to correct a major software problem that I encountered. The problem wasn’t fixed and I found out in November that the extended warranty that I purchased wasn’t valid because the computer was over 5 years old. I called tech support to advise them that the problem still existed and they refused to provide support.  On and off for over two months I tried to get this resolved and the monies refunded without success.  The company somehow entered the incorrect data and even though they charged my credit cared the billing address was a company in another state. I spent many hours on the phone and could not get them to address the problem. Finally I filed a formal complaint with the Better Business Bureau and as a result a company representative called, corrected the discrepancy, and refunded the charges to my credit card. If you have similar problems go to www.bbb.org, select the United States Office and then click on file complaint. The process is easy and you don’t have to be a member of the BBB to file a complaint. It worked well for me.

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.

Request a FREE Retirement Benefits Summary & Analysis from a local adviser. A sample analysis is available for your review. Includes projected annuity payments, income verses expenses, FEGLI, and TSP projections. This service is not affiliated with www.federalretirement.net.

Visit our other informative sites

The information provided may not cover all aspect of unique or special circumstances, federal regulations, and financial information is subject to change. To ensure the accuracy of this information, contact your benefits coordinator 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. Our articles and replies are time sensitive. Over time, various dynamic economic factors relied upon as a basis for this article may change.

Last 5 posts by Dennis Damp

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    Posted in ANNUITIES / ELIGIBILITY, BENEFITS / INSURANCE, EMPLOYMENT OPTIONS, FINANCE / TIP, RETIREMENT CONCERNS, SURVIVOR INFORMATION | Comments (0)