Posted on Thursday, 20th February 2014 by

Print This Post Print This Post

(Updated 2/17/2023) What prompted this article was an email from Holly, a federal retiree, who recently moved to Arizona. She had been calling OPM, trying to change her health care plan, for almost 2 months without success because the FEHB plan she had didn’t offer services at her new location. The one time she did get through a recorded message advised her to call back when they were not as busy!

Annuitants have 60 days to change their FEHB coverage after a move and Holly was fast approaching the two month deadline and emailed me in desperation. I initially advised her to call OPM early in the day and repeatedly until she got through.  She still could not get through so I called OPM and explained the problem Holly was having and I asked the customer service representative to call her. OPM called several hours later and she was able to make the change over the phone that same day.

Unfortunately, contacting OPM by phone on most days is frustrating and when I do get through I often have extended waits of 40 to 60 minutes or more. They are apparently understaffed and I understand they aren’t able to authorize overtime.

There are many life events that can and will affect your benefits; a move, divorce, you marry, your child reaches age 26, you reach age 65, your spouse dies, and many others. OPM publishes an online Life Events Guide that you will find helpful.

There are time limits on life events and if you don’t take action within the specified time period you will not be able to do as you desire. This can be catastrophic for those who are unable to add a survivor annuity for their new spouse or add them to their health care plan. Don’t get left out just because you were unaware of these restrictions.  The following summary covers the major life events that you need to be aware of to maintain your benefits:

When you move

Notify OPM immediately so that you will continue to receive information about your benefits and 1099R statements.

You have 60 days from the date of the event to make a health benefit change. A relocation outside of your FEHB provider’s network is considered a qualifying life event.  You may call 202.606.0500 or toll free 888.767.6738, or write to OPM ROC, PO Box 45, Boyers, PA 16017. Include your retirement claim or Social Security number and the 3 letter/number health benefit code that you want to switch to. Review FEHB plan brochures online to identify a suitable replacement for your new location.

The dental and vision coverage are administered by BENEFEDS.  The number is 877.888.3337. Contact them regarding this coverage.

If You Divorce

When you divorce, your spouse is no longer a family member and cannot be covered under your family health benefits plan. However, a divorce decree (court order) may say that you must provide a survivor annuity or health benefits for your former spouse. This is a complex issue. Download the Life Events brochure listed earlier in this article. Also visit our Divorce Forum for insight into what to expect when you divorce and precautions you must take to protect your benefits.  The two article links listed below and the OPM publications provide helpful information on this subject:


You have 31 days before your marriage to 60 days afterward to change to a family health benefits enrollment. You can add a new spouse and convert to a family or the self plus 1 plan during the next open season if you miss this deadline.

Send a copy of your marriage certificate showing the date of the marriage and the name of your spouse to the U.S Office of Personnel Management, Retirement Operations Center, P.O. Box 45, Boyers, PA 16017-0045.

You must notify OPM in writing within two years after the marriage if you want to provide a survivor annuity benefit. Discuss survivor annuity options for your new spouse with OPM. If you were unmarried at retirement and married afterward, the reduction in your annuity begins no earlier than the first of the month beginning nine months after the marriage date.

When you reach age 65

This is when you are first eligible for Medicare benefits. If you are retired and receiving Social Security you will automatically be enrolled in Part A and B and should receive your Medicare card three months before your 65th birthday. If you decide not to take Part B follow the instructions that you receive with your enrollment package.  If you aren’t receiving Social Security you have a 7 month Medicare enrollment window that stasrts 3 months before yourd 65th birthday. For more information on signing up for Medicare and its impact on your FEHB benefits read the following articles that I recently wrote on the subject:

 When a child reaches age 26

Contact OPM within 60 days after the child reaches age 26 if you want to temporary continue health care coverage for up to 36 months if needed.  Disabled children can remain on the parents plan. Review OPM pamphlet RI-79-2 for details.

The death of a spouse

Send a copy of your spouse’s death certificate to OPM. If you are providing a survivor annuity for your spouse, OPM will generally increase your annuity after receiving proof of your spouse’s death.  Other considerations:

  • You may also be able to change your FEHB health care plan to self only if you don’t have other eligible family members.  Coordinate this with OPM. They can make the change over the phone.
  • If you had FEGLI Family life insurance coverage under Option – C ask OPM for a life insurance claim form.
  • Consider changing your Federal or State income tax withholding.

If your spouse was your designated beneficiary for life insurance or for retirement submit beneficiary changes using  the SF 2808 form for CSRS or SF 3102 form for FERS retirements, and SF Form 2823 to change your beneficiary for your FEGLI life insurance policy.  You can obtain copies from OPM or visit our sit’s retirement forms page to download these forms from OPM.

The annuitant dies

Family members should contact OPM immediately and any funds sent to the annuitant after their death must be returned to OPM. It is illegal to cash annuity checks made out to a deceased annuitant or withdraw deposited funds that OPM automatically deposited to the deceased annuitants account. Also advise the appropriate financial institutions of the death and send OPM a copy of the death certificate.

You must complete the appropriate forms, attach a copy of the employee’s death certificate, and a copy of the certificate of the marriage to the widow or widower. OPM will send out forms upon notification or you can download them from their site and they provide instructions on how to proceed.  They also offer an informative video that will help you through the process.

Download OPM’s Life Events pamphlet for other life events not covered here such as your former spouse dies or remarries before age 55 and others.

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

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

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 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 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.

Last 5 posts by Dennis Damp


Print This Post Print This Post