- The Washington Times - Monday, December 4, 2006

If James Bond, Agent 007, took a lateral civil service transfer from the British SIS to the American CIA, one of the first things he probably would do is sign up for the CIA’s special health insurance plan. Its cover name is the Association Plan, and it’s a good one.

But as a member of the intelligence community involved in both foreign affairs and law enforcement, 007 also could qualify for the Foreign Service plan, or the Special Agents Mutual Benefit Plan (SAMBA).

Whatever he decided to do, he would have to act no later than the close of business Monday. That is the deadline for federal civil servants, postal employees and government retirees or their survivors to sign up for the giant Federal Employees Health Benefits Program (FEHBP), which provides health coverage for life to 9 million current and former feds and family members.

Although eligible for some of the more exotic-sounding federal health plans, Bond, that’s James Bond, also might pick one of the highly rated, low-premium health maintenance organizations such as Kaiser, Aetna, Coventry or MD-IPA.

If, like most feds, he preferred a more traditional health plan — which would let him choose his own doctor or medical facility — the Americanized Bond might opt for the Mail Handlers plan, Blue Cross basic, the American Postal Workers Union (APWU) plan or the plan offered by the National Association of Letter Carriers (NALC). Despite their specialized-sounding names, Mail Handlers, APWU and NALC are open to all federal workers and retirees.

Being a man of mystery, Bond might go with Government Employees Hospital Association (GEHA). It, too, is one of more than a dozen plans available to feds in the Washington-Baltimore area.

So what’s the point? Well, there are two of them.

First many of the health plans, despite their names, are open to all employees and retirees or (in the case of SAMBA, or Foreign Service) to employees in agencies with law-enforcement missions or who support foreign operations. That includes many employees in the Defense Department, Transportation Security Administration, Department of Homeland Security, and even the Agriculture, Commerce and Treasury departments.

Point No. 2 is that whatever you do, do it soon because the open season ends Monday. If you miss it, you will continue next year in your old plan, even its premiums have increased dramatically or your favorite doctor has left the network. If you retire in the next four years and haven’t enrolled by now in an FEHBP plan, you will not be able to get federal health insurance in retirement — when it is the most valuable. In most cases, you must have coverage in the FEHBP for the five years prior to retirement. There are exceptions to the five-year rule, but don’t count on it.

So whether you are a federal agent, secret or wearing a uniform, an astronaut, an information technology specialist, a letter carrier, an auditor or an Internal Revenue Service agent, think health insurance. Bear in mind that this is one of the most important decisions you will make, maybe ever. Your odds of having a serious illness or accident — one that could break your bank — are worse than you think.

Getting coverage is important, and getting the “best” plan for you and yours could save you $2,000 or more next year in premiums and out-of-pocket costs.

Listen and save

Tomorrow at 10 a.m., Walton Francis will be my guest on “Your Turn With Mike Causey.” He’s the author of the authoritative Washington Consumers’ Checkbook’s Guide to Health Plans for Federal Employees, and he’s yours for an hour during the regular Wednesday feature on Federal News Radio AM 1050.

You can listen, learn and/or call in questions about the open season and your particular insurance situation. If you are not near a radio or out of the area, you can listen online live at federalnewsradio.com.

But whatever you do, do something.

Mike Causey, senior editor at Federal News Radio AM 1050, can be reached at 202/895-5132 or [email protected]

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