- The Washington Times - Tuesday, July 9, 2002

The 350,000 retired federal, postal and military personnel in the greater Washington area are among the most likely to need the protection of long-term-care health insurance.

But because many of them left government service before computers were standard office equipment, the retirees and their survivors are the least likely to know about or understand the new Federal Long Term Care Health Insurance Program.

The open season when active and retired feds and certain family members can sign up for the federal LTC program started July 1. It will run through Dec. 31.

Getting information on the federal LTC program (and being able to compare its costs and benefits against private-sector plans) is a matter of a few key strokes on the computer. But for individuals who don't have access to (or the ability to operate) a computer, it will be a chore.

Members of the National Association of Retired Federal Employees will get help from local chapters and from NARFE's magazine and internet service. But most federal (and military) retirees don't belong to any group representing retirees.

In brief, the federal LTC program will offer eligible persons the chance to sign up for coverage ranging from three years to life, subject to a financial cap. Eligible people include active and retired personnel, current spouses, surviving spouses, adult children and the parents, parents-in-law and stepparents of active but not retired federal and military personnel.

To be eligible applicants must pass an underwriting test (answer a series of questions about their current and past health). Retirees will have a longer application to fill out.

Premiums are based on your age when you are accepted. If you have a birthday coming up before Dec. 31, then you could save some money by getting approval before your birthday.

A 50-year-old who was approved today for a policy that would pay $150 per day for LTC for five years would pay a biweekly premium of $52.47. Someone who is 70 getting the same coverage would pay $130.01 every pay period. Premiums can also be paid monthly out of the retiree's annuity check.

Anybody with a computer can access the Office of Personnel Management home page at www.opm.gov and click on the long-term-care icon. It includes tons of information, plus a calculator that shows how much you would pay for various types of coverage. But you need a computer to do it. So find somebody or join some group that will make you computer literate, or at least walk you through the maze.

Special rate back pay

More than 200,000 current and former federal workers a good chunk of them in the Washington-Baltimore area are a giant step closer to getting back paychecks.

The amounts due the scientists, engineers, medical personnel and GS-2 through -7 clericals will range from $1,000 to as much as $30,000. It represents pay raises denied the employees in so-called "special rate" jobs between fiscal years 1982 through 1988.

Thanks to a preliminary OK of the back-pay formula by the Federal Court of Appeals, letters went out last week to tens of thousands of eligible workers. They advised them of the situation but did not tell them how much money they will receive. In November, the court is expected to give the final stamp of approval to the payout.

For information check the National Treasury Employees Union Web site (again, you are going to need a computer) at www.nteu.org.

Pay vs. pensions

Many federal workers refer to the annual January raises they get as cost-of-living raises. Nothing thank heaven for them could be further from the truth.

Retired federal workers, military personnel and people under Social Security get cost-of-living adjustments (COLAs), while active federal and military personnel get pay raises. Period. The difference:

Pay raises are budgeted by the president and approved by Congress. This year President Bush recommended a 4.1 percent military pay raise and a 2.6 percent adjustment for civil servants. Both would be effective in January. But Congress is moving thanks to Reps. Steny H. Hoyer, Maryland Democrat, Frank R. Wolf, Virginia Republican, and Thomas M. Davis III, Virginia Republican to give both groups the same 4.1 percent raise.

But federal-military-Social Security retirees who get true COLAs are seeing the effects of a very low inflation rate. With four months left to go in the COLA countdown, the retirees January 2003 raise, as of now, stands at only 1 percent.

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