Ask The Experts: Retirement

By Reg Jones

Medicare Part B

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Q. I will be a CSRS retiree soon enrolled on my younger wife’s FEHB family plan. Does it make sense for me to enroll in Medicare part B being on her plan? Will her premiums be affected if I do?

A. Her premiums won’t be affected one way or the other. Whether you should enroll in Medicare Part B is up to you to decide based on your current and projected health needs. Just remember this: If you don’t enroll in Part B and later decide that you want to do that, the cost of those premiums will be 10 percent higher for each full 12-month period you could have enrolled in Part B and didn’t.

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Adding family member to health paln

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Q. I have been a federal employee for five years and have covered myself and my minor child under the BCBS basic family plan. My husband is disabled and receives Medicare for his primary and his employee plan for his secondary health insurance. His employer plan’s monthly premium has become expensive, and it would be more cost-effective if he were on my plan. Can I add him to my family plan during open enrollment?

A. Yes.

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Health care coverage

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Q. I retired from the federal government at age 55 with survivor benefits for my husband, who is eight years younger than I am. I will be eligible for Medicare on Dec. 1.  If I opt for the Medicare parts A and B, can I reduce the costs of Blue Cross/Blue Shield by going from family plan, which covers both of us, to the single plan for him only?

A. Not unless he is a federal employee or retiree and, as such, eligible to enroll on his own.

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Rural carrier associate

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Q. I am 60 years old. I am a regular rural carrier with 18 years of service so far as a full-time employee. I was hired in 1988 as a rural carrier associate. I would like to retire as soon as possible, and would like to know when I could do that. Also, I would need to keep my federal Blue Cross/Blue Shield insurance. I did not make career status until 1994. Are there buyback options for me so I could go back to 1988, and how much would my health insurance cost? I would take the family option.

A. To the best of my knowledge, employment as a rural carrier associate isn’t considered creditable service, and you wouldn’t be able to make a deposit to the retirement system to get credit for it. To retire from your current position and carry your health benefits coverage with you, you’d have to have 20 years of service. When you retired, the cost of your health benefit plan would increase to the amount paid by non-Postal employees and all retirees.

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Health insurance coverage for my wife

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Q. I am a retired FERS employee. I elected to continue my federal health insurance (family plan) as the supplemental insurance for Medicare. I did not take the supplemental (Part B) insurance that Medicare offered. If I die, can my wife continue the federal health insurance? For how long? Can she keep the federal health insurance for the rest of her life? Can she have the “single” rate on the insurance?

P.S. Do you foresee any change that the health insurance carriers would drop the coverages for retirees?

A. As long as she is entitled to a survivor annuity and she is covered by the self-and-family option of your Federal Employees Health Benefits plan when you die, she can continue that coverage for the rest of her life. She can also change to the self-only option.

P.S. There are no plans, nor have there ever been, to exclude federal retirees and survivors from the FEHB program.

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Single vs. family plan

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Q. My husband is going to retire early next year. He will be 65. He has been paying for self plus family Blue Cross Blue Shield since he began working for the Defense Department (BSBC 105).  I am a federal FERS retiree who will not be 65 until 2013. We heard somewhere that it is not a good idea to do single BCBS but continue with the family plan even though it comes out cheaper. We also have Tricare as a secondary as my husband is a retired military officer. Please advise as to the pros and cons of single versus family plan federal BCBS.

A. Rather than argue the benefits of single versus family Federal Employees Health Benefits plan enrollment, let me tell you what many other couples with Tricare coverage are doing: They retain their entitlement to self and family FEHB coverage and suspend it while they are covered by Tricare. That allows them to re-enroll at a later date if necessary. Whether this approach would be good for you would depend on an evaluation of your medical needs both now and in the future.

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Health care in retirement for dual-fed couples

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Q: My spouse and I are both under the Federal Employees Retirement System and our service computation dates are within weeks of each other. We would both like to retire under the minimum retirement age plus-10 provision. My spouse wants to retire in 2011 at age 58, with 26 1/2 years of continuous service, the entire time enrolled in a Federal Employees Health Benefits individual plan. The earliest I would retire is 2012 at age 57, with 27 1/2 years of continuous service, all in an FEHB individual plan.

Here is our plan: During this open season, I should enroll my spouse and myself in an FEHB family plan. She could then retire in 2011 and elect a postponed annuity. She would have health benefits under my family plan, while her annuity entitlement increases 5 percent for each year she postpones receipt of her annuity. When she elects to receive her annuity at age 59 or 60, she can then re-enroll in an FEHB family plan.  At that time, I could retire (also with a postponed annuity) and receive health benefits under my wife’s plan. Again, when I start receiving my postponed annuity several years later, I can re-enroll in an individual FEHB plan, and she could change her family coverage to an individual plan during open season. This way, we have two individual FEHB plans and we won’t have to worry about electing FERS survivor benefits that would otherwise reduce our annuities. Is this a reasonable plan?

A: Sounds like a reasonable plan. However, because you cannot have dual coverage (i.e., self and family plus self only for one family member, or self and family for both members), you’ll have to time the switch from one covered member to the other. As a rule, this would be easiest to do during the annual open season.

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