Posted on Saturday, 24th October 2015 by

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Now that we officially aren’t receiving a COLA in 2016 and our health care costs are increasing next year, for some substantially, it’s time to cut our expenses wherever possible. Over the past few months I saved a substantial amount by reviewing our monthly bills and pairing costs. I believe I’ve saved enough to offset the higher FEHB and Medicare health insurance cost increases next year. I also posted our updated 2016 Leave Chart for active federal employees that are planning their exit and need to establish realistic target retirement dates. The new 2016 spreadsheet will also help you maximize your annuity through prudent management of your annual and sick leave balances.

My last article titled FEHB Self Plus One – A Major Disappointment  described how little overall the Self Plus One option will save us and in some cases costs more. Since publishing the article I received a number of emails about the new option.  One of our readers wondered how Blue Cross and Blue Shield (BCBS) could justify charging more than twice the cost of the Standard Self option for the Standard Self Plus One option.  The BCBS Standard Self option will cost $217.06 per month in 2016 while the Standard Self Plus One option will cost $501.17 monthly, $67.05 over the cost of two Standard Self enrollments!

Frank, a friend and former associate of mine, was talking with another retiree that has the Nationwide APWU Health Plan. He has been with them since he entered the FAA and right now he is paying $316.83 a month for the High Self and Family option plus a $35.00 a year fee to cover APWU union associate dues. In 2016 their High Self & Family option is increasing substantially to $467.13 per month. However, the Self Plus One option will only cost $335.98 per month, a $131.15 savings per month for those who convert from the APWU Family to the Self Plus One option. The APWU High Self Plus One option is $12.31 less than the BCBS Standard Self Plus One option costs, something worth exploring. The BCBS Basic coverage is limited to their in-service providers and if you go out of their network they don’t cover any of the costs.

I’m currently enrolled in the BCBS Basic Self & Family option that is increasing next year to $355.76 per month. Their Basic Self Plus One option costs $348.29 for a savings of only $7.47, still more than I was paying for the Basic Family option in 2015. Several years ago, before I signed up for Medicare at age 65, I was enrolled in the GEHA Standard Self & Family Benefit Plan. The major reasons why I changed plans was due to their higher deductible, coinsurance and copayments that I had to pay each year plus they covered less for hearing aids which I need every three to five years. Now that I’m on Medicare all of the deductibles, coinsurance, and copayments are covered by the GEHA plan as an incentive to sign up for Medicare. I’ll be ordering the GEHA, BCBS, and the APWU and other health plan brochures this year to compare coverage and benefits.

I also reviewed the HMO plan costs for my area and found the same issues, little to no cost savings for the Self Plus One option. The PA Aetna Open Access plan charges $42 more for their High Self Plus One enrollment than they do for their Family option.

If you haven’t signed up to order health plan brochures and change enrollments on OPM’s FEHB Open Season Online site, sign up this year. It’s easy to register during open season and I order plan brochures and change enrollments online. You get an immediate confirmation for plan changes plus you can view all plan information either online or they will send out hard copies via regular mail. I always order hard copies of the top three plans I’m considering so that I have a copy of the plan I select for my file.

I mentioned in the first paragraph of this article that I was able to reduce our monthly bills substantially this year in preparation for the health care cost increases and lack of COLA in 2016. You too can do the same. Here is a list of the savings I was able to achieve:

  • $62 monthly Cell phone charge decrease – My contract was up and I elected to keep my iPhone 5 and my monthly bill decreased from $120 a month to $62. I went from 700 anytime minutes and 500 text messages to unlimited for both and am paying half the price!
  • Dropped my natural gas bill by about 3% by calling the gas delivery provider and asking them to drop my rate to the new lower rate that included a 24 month lock with no penalty for canceling the agreement. I did the same with my electric company provider.
  • $50 monthly reduction in my cable TV bill. I called and advised them I was considering switching to DISH and they dropped my bill by $50 a month.
  • $12.50 monthly for AOL membership. I called AOL and reviewed plans. They decreased my payment from $25 a month to $12.50 and discovered they include free Life Lock Identity Protection and free phone technical support for any computer or tablet problems that I have. With all of the OPM and other security breaches the Life Lock membership will be welcomed.
  • $50 per month. I canceled a number of memberships and subscriptions that I used infrequently and decided I could do without the services.
  • I appealed our property taxes and this month I won the appeal and our real estate taxes dropped by about 9%, a significant monthly savings.
  • My wife and I order many products online through Amazon.com and signed up for their Prime membership. They had a one day special several months ago for only $68, normally $99. The membership includes free two day shipping for one year on all orders plus access to Amazon Video, a live streaming service similar to Netflix. We watch Amazon Video and Netflix most of the time these days. The TV commercials drive us crazy and you can’t stay focused on the programs. With Amazon Video and Netflix you get most of the major TV series commercial free and we watch entire TV series over a period of a week or so. We have saved a lot on shipping and enjoy the many other services that come with Prime membership.
  • I discovered this year while doing home improvements that Home depot offers a 10% discount for all sales at their stores for military personnel and veterans. I was wearing my USAF Veteran hat and they mentioned the discount. All I had to do was show them my driver’s license that lists my “Veteran” status. In Pennsylvania, when you go in for your driver’s license renewal, take a copy of your DD 214 discharge record with you and they will add “Veteran” to your Drivers License card under a small American flag log. The Boscov’s department stores also offer vets a 15% discount. You have to go to their customer service department and ask for a Veterans discount coupon for that day.

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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.

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