- The Washington Times - Monday, September 29, 2003

Some federal and postal workers accustomed to paying very low health insurance premiums will go into sticker shock when they see the 2004 rates for their health plans.

Although overall premiums are going up 10.6 percent — lower than the national average — some of the federal health plans will have much bigger increases.

The Federal Employee Health Benefits Program is the largest in the nation. It covers about one in every three people in the Washington metro area, including nearly all elected and appointed federal officials, present and past. The FEHBP also covers 2 million retirees, survivors and the dependent children and ex-spouses of many feds. In short, it is a big deal.

Before the prospect of a 10, 20 or 40 percent premium hike induces a panic attack, be advised that the FEHBP is also the most flexible program in the nation.

Washington area feds, for example, can pick from nearly a dozen plans ranging from fee-for-service options (Blue Cross, Government Employees Hospital Association, etc.) that cover them worldwide to local HMOs. People eligible for the FEHBP can change plans during the open season (Nov. 10 to Dec. 8). The plan they choose can refuse them or restrict benefits because of age, health or pre-existing medical conditions.

We’ll help you during the open season with “best buys” for singles, couples, big families, retirees with and without Medicare, and people with special medical needs.

Brochures are as important as premiums. Nobody wants to pay too much, but it is foolish to go cheap now and be hit with big out-of-pocket bills later on. First, check the premiums, then narrow down your list to two or three plans that look good and are affordable. Then get the brochures. Check them out and run them past your doctor and dentist. They can tell you what works for them, too.

In the meantime, here are 2004 premiums for nonpostal federal workers. Postal employees, thanks to their union contract, pay 30 to 40 percent less for the same coverage.

For both groups, the government pays the lion’s share of the total premium. This is what Washington area feds and retirees will pay for the plans available. The figures shown are the amount to be paid every two weeks (retirees pay the same premiums, but monthly), and the increase from the current to 2004 rates.

• The American Postal Workers Union plan: high, self-only premium $56.92, up $4.84. High, family premium, $114.25, up $9.72. Consumer driven, self-only plan, $38.95, up $2.55; consumer-driven, family plan, $90.70, up $4.40

• The Blue Cross-Blue Shield plan: standard, self only, $48.90, up $3.24; standard, family plan, $112.88, up $7.66; basic, self-only plan, $37.99, up $3.00; family plan, $88.99, up $6.72.

• The GEHA plan: high, self, $76.24, up $9.07; high, family, $153.05, up $18.61; standard, self only, $30.25, up $2.75; family, $68.75, up $6.25.

• The mail handlers plan: high, self, $95.59, up $31.30; high, family, $180.61, up $64.07; standard, self, $32.16, up $4.07; family, $69.81, up $8.84.

• The National Association of Letter Carriers plan: self only, $51.68, up $3.24; and family, $92.78, up $5.33.

• People Before Profits plan: High, self, $183.06, up $23.24; family, $379.78, up $48.76; standard, self, $67.90, up $19.45; and standard, family, $151.70, up $44.00. This is the old postmasters plan.

Mike Causey, senior editor at FederalNewsRadio.com, can be reached at 202/895-5132 or [email protected]

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