Ask The Experts: Retirement

By Reg Jones

Dropping daughter’s coverage

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Q. I am enrolled in the Federal BCBS (self + family plan) and wanted to drop our 18-year-old daughter from the plan as she has moved out and does not associate with the family any longer. My local rep said this wasn’t possible but couldn’t state exactly why I couldn’t drop her … just said it couldn’t be done. I wasn’t comfortable with this answer and lack of explanation. If I am unable to drop her, who is responsible for the costs associated with her lifestyle? Read the rest of this entry »

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Leave without pay and creditable service

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Q. In 2011, I left my civil service job for 175 days to deploy to Afghanistan as an active-duty officer. While deployed, I used a day or two of annual or military leave every pay period to pay for my health care benefits. FERS payments also were made on the days I was on paid leave.

When I got back from my deployment, I was told I had to buy back the time, and I put in paperwork with DFAS to do so. However, I just read in my agency’s furlough FAQ that: The amount of a CSRS or FERS annuity paid by the Office of Personnel Management (OPM) is based primarily on the amount of creditable service an employee performs and the employee’s high-3 average salary.

Both CSRS and FERS allow service credit for up to 6 months of nonpay status in any calendar year. If a furlough period does not cause an employee to be in a nonpay status for more than 6 months in a calendar year, the furlough period will be included as creditable service in determining the employee’s total creditable service used in the annuity computation. If the total amount of time an employee spends in a nonpay status in a calendar year exceeds 6 months, the amount of nonpay status in excess of 6 months in the calendar year will not be creditable for retirement purposes.

Based upon this, it looks like as long as I was not in a nonpay status for six months that calendar year, I do not have to buy back that time for it to count toward my retirement. Am I correct in my interpretation of this? If so, is there a way to verify how many creditable years I have?

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Health coverage for spouse after retiree dies

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Q. I am a retired foreign service officer and elected to keep my health insurance (Blue Cross/Blue Shield), for which I pay about $430 monthly. When I die, will my wife be able to continue with this coverage? At the same cost? Or less, as she’ll be the only one covered, as our kids are grown.

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Medicare coverage for pre-1983 federal retiree

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Q. My father retired from the federal government in 1976. For whatever reason, he does not have Medicare Part A. My mother recently suffered a stroke, and because my dad did not have Medicare Part A, rehab at a nursing facility will not be covered. Apparently federal workers did not pay into the Social Security system back then and therefore have had to pay separately for Part A. It took hours of calls to SSA, OPM and Medicare to unravel this bureaucratic mess! BCBS (federal) is his secondary insurance and would not pay because Medicare A is primary.

(BCBS was no help — we tried to get a special benefit created for her, which they could have done, but it was denied.) My dad will be 93 soon, so I do not know how many of these retirees are still alive and were in similar situations and did not know nursing rehab would not be covered.

I wonder if at some time Medicare Part A did not cover nursing rehab and since BCBS is primary for inpatient hospital care, he was advised not to sign on for Part A, which also covers inpatient hospital care.

It is a sad situation for the last of his generation of federal retirees.

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Retirement and rehiring under FERS

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Q. I am a 51-year-old Defense Department employee with 13 years of continuous service under FERS and am considering relocating out-of-state and working in the private sector. Since my MRA is 56, I am not eligible for the optional (voluntary) retirement or MRA+10. My plan is to apply for a deferred annuity and leave my FERS retirement untouched after separation to avoid benefit reductions. However, I plan on returning to federal service.

Having recently attended the FERS midcareer retirement planning workshop, I am aware of the pros and cons of each retirement option.

More specifically, under MRA+10, FEHB and FEGLI are terminated upon separation and can be reinstated when the postponed annuity begins; however, under the deferred retirement option, FEHB and FEGLI are not reinstated.

My questions are: 1. If I return to federal service at age 56, is there a minimum duration I need to work before I can retire under the MRA+10 option? 2. Once I return to federal service, will my contribution to FERS remain at 0.8 percent? (I realize employee contributions to FERS may be increased based on recent proposals in D.C.) 3. Is there any other scenario where, upon returning to federal service, I would not simply be picking up where I left off?

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Secret Service work and retirement

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Q. I have 13 years of service as a Secret Service special agent under FERS.

I am considering leaving the service at 20 years, but I will be only 43. If I understand correctly, I must maintain a government job until age 50 to receive a retirement package that would give me a 41 percent retirement benefit (34 percent from my Secret Service time and 7 percent from the other government work from age 43-50) plus the full FERS special retirement supplement, as well as being able to maintain my FEHB. Is that true? Am I giving anything up by doing that? Do I have to have uninterrupted service with the government, or is it OK to take a couple of years off? Does it have to be full-time employment, or can it be part time? Basically, I have done an excellent job of saving, and I’m trying to figure out a way to get away from the wear and tear of this job after only 20 years and maintain the bulk of my retirement benefits.

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Health insurance in retirement

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Q. Will the government continue to pay a portion of health care premiums after I retire (as a FERS participant)? Or am I on the hook for the entire premium at that time? I anticipate retiring at age 67 with 36 years of service.

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Getting back on FEHB

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Q. I am a retired wildland firefighter (CSRS) and retired after 20 years in 2002. For part of my 20-year career, I had government health insurance. I voluntarily gave up insurance when I went from a 13-13 to a 6-20.

Since I retired from the USFS, I have started a teaching career and was on that organization’s health insurance. I would like to get back on the government health insurance; can I?

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FEHB, Medicare and Tricare for Life

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Q. Can FEHB suspension be done only in retirement? How can suspension be done working as an active federal employee with Medicare and Tricare for Life? One may want to keep working for the government but not have to pay FEHB fees and use Medicare Part A with its fees along with Medicare Part B free and TFL benefits included due to being a military retire. Why would one want to have such overkill in health care benefits and costs? Could you explain the process in a scenario such as this, and could either a continuing active employee or a retiree reclaim their FEHB in the event the Medicare or TFL benefit degrades or goes away?

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6(c) coverage and retirement

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Q. I joined the Marine Corps in 1988, served until 1992 and bought back my deposit. I then worked under federal law enforcement — 6(c) coverage — until 2001, when I transferred to a non-6(c) covered position until 2004, with no break in service. I then immediately obtained a position under the 6(c) provisions with no breaks in service as a special agent and am still employed. I am 43 years old and will have 32 years of federal service at age 50.

At what age can I switch to a non-6(c) position and still retire with the law enforcement/firefighter retirement? Am I correct that I can switch to a non-6(c) covered position at 46 because I will have 20 years under the covered 6C provision and still retire at 50?

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Ideal FEHB coverage

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Q. I have 25 years of federal service and plan to retire in two years. I have carried the FEHB for my family for that time. My husband was a fed for 10 years, left for private sector and is now returning to the fed employment for probably another five-plus years before he retires.

Before I retire, is there a benefit to putting our FEHB in his name? His company paid for dental insurance, which we will lose. We need this coverage (I have lots of dental expenses), so we will enroll in a federal dental plan — in his name or mine?

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Retiring at 30 years with FERS

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Q. I am a FERS employee with 22 years of service. I will have 30 years of service in eight more years and will also be 50. Can I retire with 30 years of service and collect (i.e., request an early retirement package)? I’ve read the deferred retirement, but my understanding is I would not be able to receive a pension until my MRA, 57.

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Retirement options before MRA at 20 years in

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Q. I entered federal service as a 1811 in 2001. I will reach 20 years of service in 2021 and would like to retire (at 20 years), but I will only be 46 years old. Can I retire with partial retirement and then, upon reaching age 52, receive full retirement benefits? OR am I required to have 20 years and minimum retirement age? I am confused as to when I can retire as an 1811.

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FERS combined employment time

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Q. I left civil service with just shy of 21 years of combined time (bought back 14 years of military) in November 2011 at age 44 (1967).

I did not withdraw any money from FERS, but I moved my TSP to an annuity. My intent was to just apply for a deferred retirement at age 62 to avoid penalties.

However, if I returned to Civil Service before 62, how many years would I have to work to be eligible for full health benefits under FERS? I also assume that if I returned by age 47 and worked until 56, I would have 30 years and could retire with an immediate annuity at my MRA, correct?

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CSRS, resignation and FEHB

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Q. I left civil service employment (CSRS) with the Defense Department in 1994 due to base closure with 17-plus years of service at age 42.

I elected to take a deferred annuity when I am 62 (next year). Will I be able to qualify for any FEHB plans when I start drawing my annuity?

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Insurance in retirement

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Q. I have almost 33 years with the government and have FEHB, which also covers my wife and son. I would like to start planning my retirement but am not sure I can afford to keep this coverage once I retire. Will it be the same cost to BC/BS when I retire that I am paying, or will it increase?

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FEHB, remarriage and spouse equity

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Q. If a federal government employee gets divorced before retiring and his ex-spouse is covered by FEHB under Spouse Equity, and after retiring the former employee remarries, is he allowed to cover his new spouse under FEHB? In other words, does the fact that his ex-spouse is cover under FEHB by Spouse Equity prevent the former employee from covering his new spouse under FEHB in retirement? On a similar note, what if he divorces after retirement, his ex-spouse is covered by Spouse Equity and then he remarries? Is the new spouse eligible to be covered under the retiree’s FEHB?

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FEHB and change in work status

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Q. I have been a federal employee for 28 years and can retire in two years.

My husband has been a federal employee for six years and will not reach retirement age (62) for 12 more years. I have been carrying FEHB benefits for our family. We have structured life insurance (outside of FEGLI) so that neither of us will have to rely on survivor benefits for income.

I am trying to decide whether to elect the reduced survivor benefit so I can retire with the FEHB benefits for the family or whether we should switch FEHB benefits to my husband. He would sign a waiver for reduced survivor benefits. However, 5 percent of my annuity is substantially more than 5 percent of what his annuity will be. If I terminate FEHB and let my husband enroll in FEHB for family coverage, what happens if he involuntarily loses his job or cannot work until 62? As an annuitant, would I be able re-enroll in FEHB benefits then, or would we be out of health insurance?

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FEHB and spousal coverage in retirement

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Q. I am enrolled in FEHB, but my wife has her insurance under her own employer. When I retire, can my wife switch her insurance to FEHB if she retires three year later and keeps her insurance with her employer until she retires? Does she need to be part of FEHB for five years before I retire?

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Retirement and insurance with more than 30 years in CSRS

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Q. I am 55 with 36 years of federal employment, including two one-year breaks in service. The last break was in 1985. I withdrew the funds I had paid into CSRS each time I broke service and have repaid a minimal amount of it. I thought I would be one of those people who worked forever; however, I have a progressively degenerative medical condition and likely will not be able to work more than another year at the most. I am totally ignorant about retirement and to what benefits I am entitled. For example, will my pension benefits be reduced because I am retiring early? Do I continue to pay the same health insurance rates once I retire until I become eligible for Medicare? Will my health benefits remain the same until I become eligible for Medicare? I used the pension calculator and am more confused. For example, I calculated using the percentage for the first five years and the different percentage for the next five years, and then the 2 percent for the remaining years past 10. Is this the amount plus interest, plus matching funds what I pay into CSRS from my paycheck, or do I have to do yet other calculations? I have requested a meeting with my HR department, but it has to wait until it receives information for payroll and tells me it will be weeks before I can get a meeting. My neurosurgeon and neurologist are telling me I should consider retiring immediately, but I need to make this major decision as knowledgeably as possible.

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