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Posted on Thursday, 4th June 2020 by

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Last week’s article titled “Prescription Coverage Dilemma” described problems I encountered filling a prescription I’ve used for the past five years. The process used to fill non-preferred scripts is convoluted, and all parties suffer the consequences. I received many comments from last week’s column describing similar problems.

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One Blue Cross Blue Shield member found the generic drug he was prescribed ineffective; his doctor wrote a script for the brand name medication, a 90-day supply. The pharmacy wanted to charge him $700 for a one-month supply. He sent the script to their mail-in service instead and received a 90-day supply for only $125!

A NALC (High Option) member tried refilling three different brand name medications. Her doctor wrote several waiver requests and was advised that three alternatives must “FAIL” before they would consider granting a waiver. She ended up purchasing them from Canada.

Another Blue Cross member had a similar situation with a prescription for Eucrisa, a cream used for eczema. No generics were available. After several attempts it was approved for a copay of $350. The doctor gave her a discount card and out-of-pocket expenses decreased to only $10!

This week, I spent hours on the phone talking with customer service reps and reviewing plan brochures to better understand the process. Knowing what to expect doesn’t mitigate the need for change.

According to GEHA, our prescription benefit includes the Advanced Control Specialty Formulary (ACSF).  This formulary incorporates step therapy, where a generic/preferred medication is used prior to a non-preferred medication. The formulary is reviewed quarterly, and medications may change formulary status, including preferred to non-preferred. I believe most, if not all, of the Federal Employees Health Benefit Plans follow this guidance.

Basically, providers identify preferred medications for specific conditions. Up until this year, Asmanex was a preferred asthma medication. It changed to non-preferred and according to GEHA, members using this drug were sent a change notice. I don’t recall receiving it.

There are four medications on the preferred list when you search for Asmanex. I was prescribed Pulmicort and it produced serious side effects along with another medication I took previously. My doctor submitted two Asmanex scrips over the next month and both were rejected for lack of supporting data.

My situation should be resolved shortly, GEHA will provide guidance to doctor’s offices to help them through the process and I sent my doctor additional supporting information this week. After more discussions with GEHA, I discovered two primary reasons for disapproval. The first one involved an incorrect ICD diagnosis code. I have Asthma that triggers acute bronchospasms. The first doctor I went to for this condition listed the diagnosis as acute bronchospasms instead using the code for asthma. Secondly, doctors have to list alternate prescriptions that proved ineffective and describe the current medical situation in writing. This process is time consuming, frustrating for all concerned, and puts and undue burden on our doctors. It must be streamlined.

CVS Caremark manages GEHA’s prescription program. To check your medications availability, visit their website and register by entering a user name and password to start your search. Click on Plan & Benefits, select Check Drug Costs & Coverage from the dropdown menu, and enter the name of your medication and dosage. Your medication will show up with alternatives if it isn’t a preferred drug. It also lists monthly and 90-day supply costs. All plans should offer a similar option on their sites or call their customer service for this information.

The last option is to appeal the denial in writing. You or the provider can submit an appeal. However, the process is lengthy; patients must provide written consent to their physician’s office if the doctor’s office submits the paperwork. Supporting documentation includes medical records, clinical notes, test results and other pertinent information.

Some of those who commented on last week’s article purchased medications from Canada at considerable discount. Currently, it is illegal and the FDA can seize your shipment. If you are inclined to do the same, read the article titled “Amid Pandemic, FDA Seizes Cheaper Drugs From Canada” that was recently published by Kaiser Health News. Prices at Canadian pharmacies vary widely and delivery times range from 6-8 weeks. Before the pandemic, it took about 2 1/2 weeks.

I checked my prescription’s cost on PharmacyChecker.com and Asmanex was almost 60% lower than the local cost, without plan approval. However, with approval my cost would be about half of the Canadian pharmacy cost when using the manufacture’s coupon.  The key is getting FEHB plan approval whenever possible or an acceptable alternative.

Personally, I’m apprehensive when it comes to purchasing medications from foreign countries. The U.S FDA regulates the safety and efficacy of medications sold in U.S. pharmacies. That being said, when saddled with extremely high and unaffordable copayments it may be a viable option. If you pursue this route, be cautious and check your sources carefully.

Scheduling A Retirement Benefits Seminar

Federal Employee Benefits Advocates (FEBA) provides comprehensive benefit briefings for Federal employees so they can make informed retirement decisions. Briefings include information on CSRS or FERS Retirement Annuities and all insurance programs including Medicare, the Thrift Savings Plan (TSP), Social Security, disability and other relevant retirement planning topics.

Schedule A Seminar in Your Area

Federal Employee Benefits Advocates (FEBA) provides comprehensive benefit briefings for Federal employees so they can make informed retirement decisions. Briefings include information on CSRS or FERS Retirement Annuities and all insurance programs including Medicare, the Thrift Savings Plan (TSP), Social Security, disability and other relevant retirement planning topics.

Helpful Retirement Planning Tools / Resources

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

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.

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

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Posted on Monday, 1st June 2020 by

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There are many things to consider when evaluating our Federal Employees Health Benefits (FEHB) in preparation for the next Open Season: plan cost, doctor accessibility, prescription copayments and availability, coverage for current medical conditions, and so much more. Even with considerable review and research we get blindsided by unusual situations.

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I encountered a problem this year. First, before elaborating on the situation, I have to say that I’ve been very pleased with my plan’s coverage for the past 17 years. Like all things in life, there are problems. It’s getting them resolved that can at times tax our reserves. Hopefully, this won’t happen to you.

We expect that prescribed medications will be approved and available. For the most part this is true, even though copays may be higher than desired, we often get what the doctor ordered or an acceptable alternative.

Recently, my provider refused to renew Asmanex, a prescription I’ve used to treat acute asthma for the past 5 years. I used one of the alternatives prior to taking my current prescription and experienced a severe angioedema attack, swelling of the face and throat, resulting in an emergency room visit.

My physician prescribed another medication after the recent denial. It also caused serious undesirable side effects. A second call to GEHA questioning their decision to deny approval for Asmanex proved fruitless. They advised me to instruct my doctor to write a justification for the use of the medication based on the fact that I had negative side effects from two substitute medications.

My doctor submitted the documentation. Again, it was rejected and I received a letter last week from GEHA stating, “Asmanex is covered when it is used for a FDA-Approved use. They went on to say, “the use of this drug is either unknown or does not meet the requirement.” I visited the FDA site and sure enough, Asmanex was approved for the treatment of asthma in 2015, the year I was diagnosed with the disease.

They added, “The fact that a covered provider has prescribed, recommended, or approved a service, supply, drug or equipment does not, in itself, make it medically necessary.” I don’t know about you, but for me, having the ability to breath seems to be a medical necessity!

In the mean time, I was using my emergency inhaler three time a day and at night, after laying down, I had to force myself to BREATH, and couldn’t sleep. Certainly not a desirable situation.

I’ve been with GEHA for many years and this is the first problem I’ve had. To make matters worse, the pandemic shutdown hospitals and doctor’s offices limiting access to Covid 19 patients for the most part. When I would send a text message to my doctor through their online system it would go unanswered for days if not weeks. Not a good situation.

I intend to appeal this latest decision but couldn’t wait any longer for medication. Finally, I bit the bullet and purchased the drug at market costs. I could have done this earlier but when I’m paying a sizable sum each month for our combined FEHB, FEDVIP, Medicare, and Long-term Care, you would think things like this wouldn’t be a problem. Without GEHA picking up all but the copay I had to fork out $347 for a one-month supply that previously cost $70! A huge difference.

I’m still waiting for my doctor to reply to several messages and with time this will get resolved. I’m certain many have similar problems with all plans. This was unanticipated and there wasn’t any way for me to know in advance the prescription would be denied. If you are on medications, and at our age, most are; before making a plan change, check with the provider to ensure your current medications are covered.

This situation revealed a cost savings strategy that many can use to significantly reduce prescription copays. I use it whenever I’m prescribed a new high cost medication. When I first was prescribed Asmanex, I found a coupon on the drug maker’s site that saved me $50 each time I got a refill. When my latest prescription was denied, the medication my doctor ordered had a copayment of $145. I visited the manufacturer’s website and downloaded another discount coupon reducing my copayment to $60. Unfortunately, the medication caused side effects that I couldn’t tolerate.

Initially, when the pharmacist processed the new coupon it was denied. After reviewing the coupon; I met the requirements. The coupons can only be used with private insurance programs which includes our FEHB plans. I have Medicare and the online system assumed I also enrolled in Medicare D, their prescription program. They had to deselect Medicare D as one of my insurers and the coupon was approved. Try this for your new prescriptions.

Request a Federal Retirement Report

Retirement planning specialists provide a comprehensive Federal Retirement Report™ including annuity projections, expenditures verses income, with a complete benefits analysis. This comprehensive 27-page benefits summary will help you plan your retirement.

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Find answers to your questions: The best time to retire, retirement income vs expenditures, FEGLI options and costs, TSP risks and withdrawal strategies, and other relevant topics. Determine what benefits to carry into retirement and their advantages. You will also have the opportunity to set up a personal one-on-one meeting with a CERTIFIED FINANCIAL PLANNER. Helpful Planning Tools

Helpful Planning Tools

 

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.

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

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Posted on Friday, 15th May 2020 by

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Those planning their retirement and annuitants require accessible resources for answers to their individual and unique questions. OPM does a good job managing our retirement system overall. However, there are limits to what they can and will provide. It’s often frustrating and difficult finding competent help and the level of assistance required. There are many variables to what initially might seem like an obvious resolution; it makes sense to seek out clarifications.    

Retirement planning is of and in itself a complicated process with many interrelated avenues to explore. There is a broad array of assistance available; what service you require depends on the complexity of the issues and the level of assistance you personally need.

Levels of assistance:

  • General Guidance
  • Detailed Guidance 
  • Counseling / Assistance

GENERAL GUIDANCE

OPM – The Office of Personnel Management is the HR department for the federal government and they administer the retirement benefits program. Active federal employees must contact their agency’s HR office for retirement forms processing and guidance. OPM services the retirement community directly; If you are an annuitant (retiree), use their online services portal. Annuitants can obtain immediate summaries of their current benefits, documents, and payment summary online if registered for their service.

Federal Employee’s Retirement Planning Guide 

This site offers abundant information and compiles federal employee’s retirement benefit information from a multitude of federal agencies: OPM, Social Security, Medicare, TSP, the Department of Labor and others. This site is easy to search and provides explanations, examples, and suggestions that you won’t find elsewhere. The related blog and weekly email newsletter offers guidance on current topics of interest.

DETAILED GUIDANCE 

Federal Retirement Report – A 27-page Personal Retirement Report Summary

RP & A Financial Strategies develops personalized 27-page written Federal Retirement Reports™ customized to your specific situation and includes a summary of all benefits, TSP investments, and annuity estimates with projections. This service costs $179 and includes a one-hour, one-on-one, session with their federal retirement specialist to review your report and answer any questions you may have. A moneyback guarantee is offered if you aren’t completely satisfied with their services. They also offer a one-hour personal consultation with a Certified Financial Planner (CFP) at no additional cost if desired. This service has been available for over five years and it can help federal employees prepare for retirement.

Seminars – Federal Employee Benefits Advocates (FEBA)

Contact this group to conduct targeted retirement planning briefing at your location. They cover CSRS and FERS employees, (including Special provisions) and may be offered in Full or Half-day sessions. The information is generally divided into seven key areas:  CSRS or FERS retirement annuity, Thrift Savings Plan (TSP), Voluntary Contribution Plan (VCP) – CSRS and CSRS Offsets only, Federal Employees Group Life Insurance (FEGLI), Social Security, Federal Employees Health Benefits (FEHB), Federal Employees Dental and Vision Insurance Program (FEDVIP) and disability programs. These seminars were recommended to me several years ago by a senior HR federal government specialist. She was impressed with the seminars conducted at her location.    

COUNSELING / ASSISTANCE 

Often, individuals need to talk with an expert to address complex issues and make informed decisions about what is best for their situation. It is difficult finding anyone to call or email that you can trust and get the information you need. Here is a list of those you can contact to help you address your concerns when the research you’ve done hasn’t provided an answer.

OPM (Call or Email) – I can see eyes rolling while you read this. Yes, it is difficult getting through to them by phone and it may take weeks to get a reply by email, but they can help. Plus, they are the only ones who can make needed changes or updates.

  • Phone Number: 1-888-767-6738, TTY: 855-887-4957 weekdays only.
  • Email: retire@opm.gov

Note: To get through faster, I dial their number, 888-767-6738; if it’s busy, I hang up and immediately click redial. I typically get through in several minutes using this technique. Expect long waits. 

Columnists – Many columnists, like myself, reply to email questions. Generally, I’ll send a reply with links to relevant sections of my website and to OPM guidance that will help. When I’m asked to provide one-on-one counselling or answer a complex issue that I don’t have time to address, I refer them to the professional counselors listed below under Retirement Planning Consultants.

Retirement Planning ConsultantsA professional federal benefits consultant can address your concerns and answer any questions that you may have. If they don’t have the immediate answer, they have the resources to obtain them.

Retirement Planning Consultant – All Areas 

Tammy Flanagan is a former federal employee, a federal benefits specialist, and consultant. Since 2006, Tammy has authored the popular weekly “Retirement Planning” column for Government Executive online magazine. She and her staff offer reasonable fee-for-service personal consulting for civilian federal employees and annuitants. They can address your concerns, answers questions, recommend options, provide details as to why one path is preferred over another, and put your mind at ease.

Consultant – Divorce Related Issues 

Ann Ozuna is a retired Personnel Management Specialist.  She founded Personnel Solutions Federal Benefits Counseling upon retirement from federal service in 1996. In addition to her 25-year federal personnel career, she holds an MBA from Gonzaga University and the Senior Professional in Human Resources (SPHR) and Chartered Federal Employee Benefits Consultant (ChFEBC) designations. She provides consulting services for federal employees facing divorce and attorneys working with federal employee clients. Call for a free initial consultation and tell her your heard about her services on www.federalretirement.net.

If you need answers to retirement questions or don’t know what options are best for you and your family, use the resources listed above or other reputable services to get you back on track.

Helpful Retirement Planning Tools

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.

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

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Posted on Saturday, 2nd May 2020 by

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A number of helpful updates were added to OPM’s online annuity services website recently at https://www.servicesonline.opm.gov. They changed the way your Claim Number works on the “Sign In” and “Forgot Password” pages.

My Access Screen with Personal Data Removed

This change provides assistance on Claim Number formatting during site entry. When you first enter the site, you must add a prefix and suffix to your claim number. If you auto-saved your sign in information, your browser may require you to re-enter your Claim Number with this change. They also added improved instructional guides and helpful support links on the Services Online homepage and password reset pages.

Those who haven’t signed up for this service yet can review the signup procedures that are outlined in the article Herb Casey wrote on this subject several years ago.

I signed in this past weekend and was blocked from entry until I updated (changed) my password. I entered the password I have been using for the past year and then entered a new password to enter the site.

The dashboard page lists all recent transactions. In my case, I increased my federal income tax withholding and changed my password. It also lists your current annuity summary at the bottom of the page.

I requested an updated (current) retirement booklet. You can also request a copy of the original booklet that you received when your first retired. All retirees receive a comprehensive multi page booklet titled, “Your Federal Retirement Benefits” from OPM when they retire. My booklet was 28 pages long. Request your updated copy by selecting the Document Section, the last item listed on the Dashboard’s main menu and click on “Request Booklet.”

This booklet is a wealth of information and includes all of your personal retirement information such as your CSA number, annuity breakdown, survivor elections, benefit elections, etc. The document section also provides quick access to your 1099R forms for the past 5 years, a downloadable annual annuity statement and a how to guide if you are having trouble with your browser.

The site changes are helpful and there is a lot of information that you can download or print out for your records. The main dashboard page includes top menu selections for the following areas:

  • Quick Links
    • Forms
    • FAQs
    • Helpful Links
    • Survivor Benefits
  • External Links

The transaction History section is also useful. You can view all transactions for each month with a total year to date summary for each transactions type. All reports are easy to print out, just click on the print / PDF icon at the top right of the report being viewed.

Helpful Planning Tools

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.

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

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Posted on Saturday, 25th April 2020 by

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The Covid19 pandemic shutdown may truly be worse than the disease itself. Tens of millions have been forced on unemployment and many small businesses may never recover. Companies selectively deemed essential like Walmart, Amazon, Target, Home Depot, Lowes and others are doing great while their smaller competitors are being forced out of business.

This virus is highly contagious and targets the elderly and those with certain diseases and/or compromised immune systems. It has devastated families around the world and continues to do so especially in elder care facilities or in highly concentrated areas like New York City where it spreads like wildfire. Hopefully, what we’ve done to fight this pandemic will help us weather future storms that may come to our shores. If we practice the hygiene and social distancing recommendations to the extent necessary, we could reduce deaths dramatically during upcoming flu seasons or when the Covid19 decides to return and hopefully, without an across the board shutdown.

What I do know is that we can’t shut down our country for extended periods like this without severe societal consequences. There are limits to what the Federal Reserve and government can do, and without a running economy the States and federal government can’t function. The extraordinary measures implemented this go around still may eventually break the bank.

Now, the States are asking for trillions more to make up for all of the revenue they lost. When the country is shut down the tax revenue from sales tax and so much more isn’t there to pay State worker salaries and operational expenses. Expand that to local governments, how do they pay their police officers and expenses?

The stimulus package of around 6 trillion dollars after all is said and done, along with the Federal Reserve’s infusion of trillions more to shore up the banks and bond markets, still isn’t enough if the country doesn’t open up for business soon.

The Federal Reserve, also known as the Fed, manages the central banking system of the United States. It was founded in 1913 under the Federal Reserve Act to manage financial and economic instability.  The Fed creates the nation’s money supply however the majority of our money supply isn’t printed, it is digitally credited or debited to banks throughout the country. Simply put, a ledger entry on a spreadsheet, nothing more.

The Fed Balance Sheet prior to the shutdown was just over $4 trillion which included mortgage backed securities and U.S. Treasuries. When the stimulus started the balance sheet went exponentially off the chart upward to over 6 trillion dollars.  Where did the additional funds come from?

This is the scary part for a novice like myself. According to Wikipedia, “Money creation doesn’t have to be physical, either; the central bank can simply imagine up new dollar balances and credit them to other accounts.” In the old days the Fed actually had to print new money and prior to 1933 it was backed up with gold. For every dollar printed there was an appropriate amount of that precious metal stored at Fort Knox.  Now, they simply make a book entry and “imagine” that it is real!

I’m taken aback when I hear the Fed is infusing trillions of “book entry” dollars into our already overburdened system. Then add the trillions added most recently to shore up the economy due to the shutdown. Is it all smoke and mirrors and monopoly money?  Now that being said, with out the Feds infusion our bond market and banks could have collapsed. There was no one other than the Fed buying bonds and without bond sales our federal government can’t function.  What most aren’t aware of is that our government borrows over 25 percent of what it spends each and every year! Could you and I do this and survive?

The Federal budget for 2019 was $4.526 trillion dollars, total revenue was $3.422 trillion for a deficit of $1.092 trillion! This year with the 3 to 6 trillion additional spending for the pandemic our deficit may be close to or more than 7 trillion dollars! About twice what the Federal government generates in revenue each year.

What I imagine is either taxes are going to skyrocket or runaway inflation is on the horizon. Again, I’m a novice and look at things from a common sense perspective. Our government operates far from that realm. Actions like this create a vicious circle. The government doesn’t have the revenue for the stimulus package and they must borrow trillions by selling Treasury Bonds. However, there are no buyers. The Fed balance sheet is insufficient to support this massive infusion so they imagine the trillions by making a book entry of a sufficient amount to buy the Treasury bonds from Uncle Sam!

I drive down route 60 close to home and see one small business after another shuttered, dreams dashed, and hardship for all of the owners and workers that staff them, and the customers that are deprived of their offerings.  It’s time to get back to a new normal and fast before the country collapses under its own weight.

I understand the hardship on all sides of this issue; for the sick and those most susceptible, workers deprived of their livelihood, and the entrepreneurs that put their heart, soul, and life savings into their small businesses.  There are sensible options to reopen the economy and it isn’t wise for government to ignore the hardships endured by all segments of society at this crucial time.

Request a Federal Retirement Report

Retirement planning specialists provide a comprehensive Federal Retirement Report™ including annuity projections, expenditures verses income, with a complete benefits analysis. This comprehensive 27-page benefits summary will help you plan your retirement.

Request Your Personalized Federal Retirement Report™ Today

Find answers to your questions: The best time to retire, retirement income vs expenditures, FEGLI options and costs, TSP risks and withdrawal strategies, and other relevant topics. Determine what benefits to carry into retirement and their advantages. You will also have the opportunity to set up a personal one-on-one meeting with a CERTIFIED FINANCIAL PLANNER. Helpful Planning Tools

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.

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

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Posted on Friday, 17th April 2020 by

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The Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act is providing support for those most impacted by the pandemic. Congress passed the Act last month and one of the key provisions is providing for Economic Impact Payments to American households. Payment of up to $1,200 per adult for individuals whose income was less than $99,000 (or $198,000 for joint filers), and $500 per child under 17 years old – or up to $3,400 for a family of four will be arriving soon. Your Adjusted Gross Income will be determined by your 2019 tax filing (or 2018, if 2019 is unavailable).

 

Request Your Personalized Federal Retirement Report™ Today

The amount of the payments will be reduced for those with higher incomes. For individuals filing taxes as singles, the reduced amount begins at an adjusted gross income (AGI) of $75,000 per year and is completely phased out at $99,000. For joint filers, the reduced amount begins at $150,000 and payment is eliminated at $198,000.

The IRS will use the information on the Form SSA-1099 for Social Security recipients, and Form RRB-1099 for Railroad Retirement Board recipients, to generate $1,200 Economic Impact Payments for those who didn’t file a tax return in 2018 or 2019. Recipients will receive these payments as a direct deposit or by paper check, just as they would normally receive their benefits.

For those who do not have their income tax refund automatically sent to their checking or savings account, the Treasury launched a web-based portal for individuals to provide their banking information to the IRS online. Individuals can receive payments immediately as opposed to waiting for checks in the mail.

RMD Waiver

Required minimum distributions (RMDs) for 2020 have been waived for 401(k), 403(b), and governmental 457(b) plans as well as SEP IRAs, SIMPLE IRAs, and traditional IRAs. The Thrift Savings Plan announced last year that RMDs would be automatically sent if a participant doesn’t request one during the year. That has changed under the CARES Act, I called the TSP today and they confirmed that RMDs won’t be automatically sent out this year. If you decide you want to make a withdrawal this year, call the TSP at 1-877-968-3778.

The reason some prefer to waive their RMD is to reduce taxes and to possibly prevent their Medicare part B premiums from increasing. Medicare Part B premiums are income adjusted and an RMD could raise your income just enough to increase your Medicare premium next year.

For those who already elected to take their RMD earlier, call the TSP or other retirement account providers to see whether you’re eligible. You may be able to return the funds to your retirement account.

The 10% early withdrawal penalty is now waived on aggregate distributions of up to $100,000 from certain workplace retirement plans and individual retirement accounts (IRAs) for COVID-19-related purposes. Individual can elect to pay the federal income tax on the distribution over 3 years or they have the option to repay the distribution within a 3-year period to an eligible retirement plan. This option isn’t available for TSP participants at this time.

CARES Act Summary

  1. The deadline for filing and payment of 2019 federal income taxes has been moved from April 15 to July 15, 2020, by the Internal Revenue Service (IRS). The July date will also be the deadline to make 2019 contributions to IRAs and health savings accounts (HSAs). Deadlines associated with contributions to workplace savings plans are not affected.
  2. Direct payments of $1,200, or $2,400 for joint filers, plus $500 for each child may be coming your way as discussed in the introduction.
  3. Some retirement account rules have been relaxed. In addition to the RMD discussion in the introduction, certain beneficiaries taking distributions from inherited IRAs may also skip the 2020 distribution when calculating their 5-year distribution period. Also, loan repayments for affected participants in workplace retirement plans may be delayed for one year. These changes will be in effect through 2020.
  4. Paid sick and family leave available for more workers. OPM has issued a fact sheet titled, “Federal Employee Coverage Under the Leave Provisions of the Families First Coronavirus Response Act.” Federal employees should review this new guidance. There are enhancements to the “Emergency Family and Medical Leave Expansion Act” that working parents need to be aware of.
  5. Paid leave is required for more employees by the Families First Coronavirus Response Act. These provisions apply to businesses of 500 employees or less. Businesses with 50 employees or less may be exempt from the paid leave provisions.
  6. Unemployment insurance has been expanded.
  7. Tax credits for the self-employed may be available.
  8. Interest is waived for Federal student loan payments.
  9. More funding is now available for health care and expanded coverage. Testing for COVID-19 must be covered by private health insurance without cost sharing. Any vaccines for COVID-19 must be covered as well without cost sharing. This act expands coverage of telehealth services under Medicare. It also allows high-deductible health plans with health savings accounts (HSAs) to cover telehealth services even if patients have not met their annual deductible. For health savings accounts, health flexible spending accounts, and health reimbursement arrangements, the act includes over-the-counter (OTC) medicines (without a prescription) and feminine products as qualifying medical expenses that can be reimbursed by these accounts. Check with your FEHB provider if you have specific questions.
  10. Above-the-line deduction for charitable contributions. The CARES Act allows for a $300 above-the-line deduction for cash charitable contributions made to 501(c)(3) organizations for taxpayers who take the standard deduction. These changes go into effect beginning in the 2020 tax year.

You can review and/or download the Act online if you wish to do a comprehensive review. I’ve written several articles centered around this pandemic over the past 7 weeks that you may find interesting:

Request a Federal Retirement Report Retirement planning specialists provide a comprehensive Federal Retirement Report™ including annuity projections, expenditures verses income, with a complete benefits analysis. This comprehensive 27-page benefits summary will help you plan your retirement.

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Find answers to your questions: The best time to retire, retirement income vs expenditures, FEGLI options and costs, TSP risks and withdrawal strategies, and other relevant topics. Determine what benefits to carry into retirement and their advantages. You will also have the opportunity to set up a personal one-on-one meeting with a CERTIFIED FINANCIAL PLANNER. Helpful Planning Tools

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.

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

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Posted on Friday, 10th April 2020 by

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According to OPM, “COVID 19 has not affected Retirement Services’ ability to process applications or deliver timely payments.” During the first quarter of 2020, 32,973 retirement packages were received by OPM and they processed 28,617. There is a backlog of 21,264 applications waiting to be processed as of March 31, 2020.

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It is now taking an average of 60 days to process retirement applications.  Of the 20,139 cases processed in the first quarter of 2020, for agencies with at least 15 cases reviewed per month, 10.6% or 2,147 had errors that can significantly delay application processing. The employee must work with their HR office to confirm creditable service and review their application thoroughly before it is sent to OPM.

Use our Retirement Planning Guide to help you through the process. It should be noted that OPM can take six months or longer to process a retirement application if information is missing or problems are encountered.  Federal employees must have sufficient cash available and be financially prepared when retiring to allow OPM to complete a final adjudication of their claim.

OPM indicates that annuitants will receive an interim payment of approximately 90% of their expected NET monthly payment, less federal income tax withholdings. NET payments equal what is remaining after deducting health care and life insurance premiums from the gross amount. I received an interim payment of 70% and my claim was processed in 90 days when I retired back in 2005. Retirees may receive interim payments for less than they anticipated due to a number of factors.

To reduce processing delays, submit your application in advance and confirm that your Official Personnel Folder (OPF) is complete. If you submit your paperwork early, your personnel and payroll offices will be able to complete their action before your retirement date.

OPM reported that a number of factors cause reduced interim payments or prevent OPM from initiating interim payments. These factors include:

  • Court orders that are on file at OPM. Court orders can contribute to as much as a 50% reduction in interim payments. Check out our Divorce Forum for clarifications and informative articles on this subject.
  • Part time service
  • Unpaid military deposits
  • When a redeposit wasn’t paid for refunded service creditable towards disability retirement
  • Employees entitled to special retirements for LEO, FF, ATC or other special retirement programs
  • CSRS offset applicants with 90 days of or over the age of 62
  • Non-deduction service performed after 10/1/1982 creditable under CSRS where the deposit has not been paid in full
  • Deposits have not been paid for FERS creditable non-deduction service
  • VA part time direct medical solutions (DMS) physicians, including doctors, scientists, and surgeons
  • Refunded service creditable towards CSRS non-disability retirement ending on or after 3/1/1991 where the deposit has not been paid
  • Excess LWOP
  • Service that is unverified or missing
  • Where an insurable interest survivor election is made
  • When no survivor election is made
  • Receipt of military retired pay

There are a number of actions to take long before you retire to expedite retirement application processing. If you work closely with your agency’s retirement coordinator to ensure your application is processed timely and accurate, the chance of delay is dramatically reduced.

Request a Federal Retirement Report Retirement planning specialists provide a comprehensive Federal Retirement Report™ including annuity projections, expenditures verses income, with a complete benefits analysis. This comprehensive 27-page benefits summary will help you plan your retirement.

Request Your Personalized Federal Retirement Report™ Today

Find answers to your questions: The best time to retire, retirement income vs expenditures, FEGLI options and costs, TSP risks and withdrawal strategies, and other relevant topics. Determine what benefits to carry into retirement and their advantages. You will also have the opportunity to set up a personal one-on-one meeting with a CERTIFIED FINANCIAL PLANNER.

Helpful Planning Tools

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.

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

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Posted on Friday, 3rd April 2020 by

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The administration is considering new options to combat the Coronavirus including the wearing of facemasks for the general population when they go out and about. The CDC may soon recommend that everyone wear face coverings in public settings when they go to a pharmacy, grocery or other public places.  Essentially, they are concerned that those not exhibiting symptoms may be unwittingly spreading the virus to others.

Stylish and functional facemasks made at home by my niece.

They want us to wear cloth masks, not the N95 masks needed by our health care providers. Many seamstresses and home makers are producing masks across the country. I have the commercial construction trade N95 masks that I use at home when spraying chemicals and paints. I wear one while out in the public. Any face covering will do, including a scarf or any cloth material that you find suitable. I believe it’s a great idea.

The administration may eventually relax work restrictions in areas of the country where the virus isn’t prolific and spreading. That will help to restart our economic engine. Farmers need migrant workers to plant and harvest their crops now and because of the crisis their visas have been delayed. This is a critical issue for our food supply and I’m certain the administration is working to correct this.

It’s been a busy week trying to stay healthy and “ahead of the curve” as we use to say. After trying for several days, I finally locked up a Walmart Grocery Pickup Slot last Wednesday. I entered our grocery order online and initially all of the pickup and delivery slots were taken. I went online in the early morning and again around 6 pm each evening until several slots opened up.  I also tried to access one of the major groceries online ordering sites without success.

Everyone and their uncle must be ordering online for pickup and delivery these days. Many older retirees and those at risk should take advantage of this excellent service. Major chain stores now have early hours for older customers and those at risk.  I went to one of the first ones they offered in our area at 6 am on Monday morning several weeks ago. The grocery shelfs for many products were empty.  They didn’t have time to restock from the weekend.  That may have been an anomaly.

Walmart is hiring new associates so they can handle more grocery order pickup and delivery requests. You can change your order up to 4 hours before the scheduled pickup and I added 4 items the night before. They had to substitute several items and they notified me by email for approval. You can approve the substitution or cancel that item if it isn’t desirable.

Walmart sent me a text when the order was ready.  I replied that I was en route on their Walmart Grocery App. Upon arrival, I entered the line number I was in so they knew where I was parked. It’s very efficient and the order was spot on.  I will use the service again and since you pay using a credit card you don’t have to handle cash that may be contaminated with who knows what these days.

Some companies are offering concierge services where you pull up to the store, hand your order to a worker, and they fulfill it and bring it to your car. Sam’s Club started doing this recently. You can go online, make a written list of what you what and never get out of your car to get your ordered filled. It does take time for them to pull the items off the shelf, so be patient.

This week I had all of the spring landscaping completed and power washed the driveway and sidewalks. Spring cleanup took up a lot of my time, putting out the yard statues and porch furniture, turning on the outside water faucets, cleaning out my shed, and so much more. There was little time to dwell on the obvious gorilla in the room.  The Corona virus is still front and center however southwestern PA’s cases fortunately don’t seem to be on a pronounced trajectory like New York and others.

Some reporters and news media are sensationalizing everything and I believe causing undue stress for many. The dire predictions are hopefully just that, created from a model that with time is modified by reality. Life will return to normal sooner than later. The best way for me and my wife to combat this is to stay calm, go out in public as little as possible, wear gloves and masks while out, keep active, and take care of things on the home front.

I’ve written several articles centered around this pandemic over the past 4 weeks that if you didn’t orignal have time to read, go back and take a look:

Request a Federal Retirement Report Retirement planning specialists provide a comprehensive Federal Retirement Report™ including annuity projections, expenditures verses income, with a complete benefits analysis. This comprehensive 27-page benefits summary will help you plan your retirement.

Request Your Personalized Federal Retirement Report™ Today

Find answers to your questions: The best time to retire, retirement income vs expenditures, FEGLI options and costs, TSP risks and withdrawal strategies, and other relevant topics. Determine what benefits to carry into retirement and their advantages. You will also have the opportunity to set up a personal one-on-one meeting with a CERTIFIED FINANCIAL PLANNER.

Helpful Planning Tools

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.

Posted in LIFESTYLE / TRAVEL, RETIREMENT CONCERNS, WELLNESS / HEALTH

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