Ask The Experts: Retirement

By Reg Jones

Living overseas and health care

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Q. I am in the GS, age 64. I hit seven years overseas and am on the Priority Placement Program to return to the U.S. Instead, I plan to stay overseas and marry a local national. My options are to retire at 13 years’ service or to resign and take a Non-Appropriated Fund job on base to continue earning FERS coverage. I understand that next year I must enroll in Medicare Part A, although I will be overseas and unable to use it. Is there any benefit to me also enrolling in Part B if I plan to retire overseas? I have the Foreign Service Benefit Plan.

It appears that I am going to be undercovered either way unless I am still able to work on base as NAF and access the U.S. hospital where Medicare coverage would be primary. Do you have any advice on how to retire overseas regarding health care benefits? It seems there is no good answer, and yet I know many people who are not military retirees making the decision to stay overseas after their tours end.

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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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Obama health care law and FEHB changes

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Q. I am a CSRS retiree. I retired in 2005. I am a subscriber to the Federal Employee Health Benefits program, specifically Blue Cross-Blue Shield’s Standard Option with family coverage. My wife and I are also qualified for Medicare Parts A and B. That makes Medicare the primary coverage and FEHB/BC-BS the secondary coverage for any health benefits paid.

1. What (if any) changes in the plan’s coverages are anticipated for 2014 and beyond, due to the health care law? 2. Does OPM anticipate that current retirees/program members will be forced into a health care provider’s coverage offered under the law? Starting in 2014, will federal retirees be forced into that law’s coverage rather than having the option to choose our own coverages under current program?

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Retirement and Medicare Part B

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Q. My wife and I are civil service retirees. We both are employed with health insurance. We still have FEHB.

I am planning to retire shortly. I will be able to transfer to my wife’s plan with her employer. After she retires, we will have about three or four years of coverage under that plan. After that, do we have to decide on whether to get Medicare Part B? Is my analysis correct?

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CSRS and Medicare

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Q. I retired in 2009 under CSRS. I am close to 65, and the answer to one of the questions asked states that people in CSRS are not eligible for Medicare because they didn’t pay into Social Security.

I was in CSRS before the change to FERS and stayed with CSRS. I had Medicare deductions taken from my pay from 1983-84 till I retired in 2009.

Do the Medicare funds I paid since 1983 make me eligible for Medicare or just part of it?

So which is right? I need to know so I can do what needs to be done — enroll or not. I’m currently insured under federal BCBS.

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Medicare Part B

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Q. I will apply for Medicare Part A when I reach 65 as a FERS retiree. My wife will not be eligible for eight years after, and I will retain my federal Blue Cross/Blue Shield family policy. She also has a state BC/BS policy in which I am included. Her policy does not carry over into retirement, so I will keep mine until she is eligible for Medicare. If I wait until she no longer has me under her policy, will I be entitled to then apply for Medicare Part B without penalty under the Substantially Equal Periodic Payment exception, or do I need to do it when I am eligible for Medicare to avoid the 10 percent-per-year penalty?

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Medicare Part B

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Q. I am a recent retiree and have to decide whether to obtain Medicare Part B coverage. I have, and intend to keep, my Blue Cross coverage. I am trying to determine whether I should opt for Medicare Part B for my wife and I, even though I have Blue Cross. The Medicare Part B monthly payments would range about $150 for each of us.

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Medicare Part B

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Q. I am retired military. I am 65 years old now. Do I have to pay for Medicare Part B even though no expense now?

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12 questions on VERA

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Q. I am a letter carrier, age 52, started in 1985 and have 28 years of creditable service.

If I understand what I’ve gleaned from the posts here and the Postal Service were to offer me a Voluntary Early Retirement Authority this year,

1.  Would I begin my annuity immediately?

2.  Would I have no reductions in calculations of my annuity? (average high-3 x 1 percent x 28)

3.  Would I receive credit for half of my sick leave and all of my annual leave? (How are these applied?)

4.  Would I receive the special retirement supplement beginning at age 56 (my minimum retirement age), and receive it until I reach age 62?

5. Would I be able to continue carrying my current health and life insurance at non-USPS rates? (I couldn’t find how long these could be carried. Until death?)

6.  Could I begin receiving Social Security as early as age 62?

7. Any withdrawal from my Thrift Savings Plan prior to age 59½ would be penalized 10 percent as per Internal Revenue Service regulations? (Can I continue to contribute to TSP after retirement?)

8. As a FERS annuitant, is there no limit to what I can earn after separation from the Postal Service as it pertains to my annuity payment?

9. At age 56 (my MRA), the special retirement supplement from Social Security would begin and would be subject to yearly income limits. Would supplement payments be reduced by approximately $1 for every $2 I earned above that year’s Social Security income limit?

10. At age 65, I’d be eligible for Medicare parts A and B? (Would this affect my health insurance coverage through Federal Employees Health Benefits?)

11.  Would there be cost-of-living increases at any point for my annuity?

12.  Is there a date during the year that maximizes the benefits of retirement?

Did I get this right, and are there any other things I should know before considering a VERA if it is offered?

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Medicare Part B premium

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Q. I am going to retire Jan. 1, 2014, and I realize that my modified adjusted gross income will cause my Medicare Part B premium to at least double. But once I retire, my income will go down. Does the Medicare Part B premium get adjusted annually? Or is it set for life as of your retirement date?

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Turning down Medicare Part B but taking it later

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Q. I am 65 years old and am employed full time by the federal government. I will continue my federal employment for several years. I am covered under Federal Employees Health Benefits and pay for Blue Cross/Blue Shield insurance. If I decline Part B now and decide to take it later, will I be subject to the Medicare Premium penalty?

A. Yes, you can decline Part B while you are still employed without penalty. When you are no longer employed, you’ll have an eight-month window in which to enroll, penalty-free, which begins the first full month after you retire.

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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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Medicare Part B penalty

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Q. I am 59 years old and covered under Federal Employees Health Benefits as the spouse of a CSRS annuitant. Due to a covered disability, I have been receiving Social Security Disability Benefits for the past 18 months and was just advised that I will be eligible for Medicare Parts A and B in June. If I decline Part B and decide to take it later, will I be subject to the Medicare Premium penalty?

A. Yes.

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Retirees, Medicare and the ‘creditable plan’

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Q. I am retired with Blue Cross/Blue Shield and will be signing up for Medicare Part A soon to avoid penalties for Part B and Part D. Does my BC/BS meet the “creditable plan” requirement to avoid penalties? I have been told “yes and no” on the phone by Medicare. If I sign up for an HMO with a lower cost, will I meet “creditable plan” standards if I drop Federal Employees Health Benefits? Can I re-sign up for BC/BS later if I don’t like the coverage?

A. The “creditable plan” feature you’re referring to only applies to those who are currently employed or are covered by a family member who is employed. It doesn’t apply to retirees, regardless of the plan they are in.

If you drop your FEHB coverage, you can’t re-enroll in it unless you return to work for the government in a position that allows you to be covered by the FEHB program.

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FEHB and Tricare for Life

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Q. On Jan. 18, there was question about which is primary between these two programs, and the answer ended with “whether you keep both [Federal Employees Health Benefits] and Tricare is something you’ll have to decide.” How do you decide? Where can I find a clear, side-by-side comparison of my FEHB (BC/BS standard in my case) and Tricare for Life — one that is not comparing apples to oranges? I have been told I don’t really need FEHB because TFL is “very comprehensive,” but how can I find out exactly what, if anything, FEHB would cover that TFL wouldn’t. P.S. I’m in excellent health and am also covered by Medicare Parts A and B.

A. Unfortunately, no one has made such a comparison, nor is it likely that anyone will. While Tricare and Medicare A and B are monolithic, with their benefits spelled out in detail, there are around 200 plans in the FEHB program. And what they cover varies, not only in the services covered but in the level of reimbursement, co-payments and deductibles. If you want to make such a comparison, you can do so by carefully reviewing what your own FEHB plan provides with what Tricare does.

In closing, you mentioned that others have told you that you don’t need the FEHB coverage because Tricare is very comprehensive. While I don’t know if that’s true, I’ve been told the same by other former members of the military who made the decision to suspend their FEHB coverage and were happy with the decision. Whether you’d be happy if you did the same is something I can’t predict.

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Health insurance

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Q. I am enrolled in Medicare Part A and B. I also have Tricare for Life and Federal Employees Health Benefits (Blue Cross/Blue Shield). My doctor has opted out of Medicare and wants $5,000 for a hip replacement. Will FEHB pay his fee?

A. The only way to find out how much of your doctor’s fee your FEHB plan will pay is to ask them.

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Suspending FEHB

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Q. When I turn 65, I can enroll in Medicare Parts A and B. The other parts do not interest me. At this time, I am enrolled in a Federal Employees Health Benefits plan. I am a veteran who is 60 percent disabled, and the Veterans Affairs Department covers my medical needs at 100 percent plus meds if I use its facility. At age 65, I would like to suspend my FEHB plan and use Medicare Parts A and B plus my VA. Can I suspend my FEHB under this situation?

A. No, you can’t.

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Medicare Part B

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Q. I am retired and have Blue Cross/Blue Shield Basic for my health plan. I will be 65 in May and need to make a decision on whether I should get Part B when I have my current FEHB coverage. If I decide to take Part B, there will be another monthly cost. Is there any FEHB plan that would benefit me to enroll in and also keep the costs down if I decided to take Part B? This is confusing to me.

A. It’s confusing to you because it’s confusing to everyone faced with that decision. Unfortunately, there isn’t any way to make it less confusing. You’ll have to consider your current and anticipated health care needs. Then you’ll need to review the pluses and minuses of your current plan and Medicare Part B to see if there’s anything to be gained by enrolling in Part B. Finally, you’ll need to look at some other FEHB plans with lower premium costs to see if they’ll provide you with what you need and want, while offsetting some of the cost of Part B.

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Medicare Part B

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Q. I am a Bureau of Prisons retiree with GEHA health insurance. Should I enroll in Medicare B? I know I don’t have to enroll in Medicare B, but would like to know the pros and cons of not enrolling. It seems the only entity that would benefit from that enrollment would be GEHA, or whichever health plan I enroll in, as it would automatically be deemed secondary with Medicare Part B as the primary, thereby avoiding paying the full cost of whatever medical procedure I might receive. If I sign up for Medicare B, won’t I be paying twice for the same services? If that is the case, why would I even consider enrolling in Medicare Part B? Am I missing something here?

A. The best place to find the pluses and minuses of enrolling in Medicare Part B will be found at www.opm.gov/health/medicare/index.asp.

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Medicare and FEHB

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Q. I am retiring from the VA when I am 62. I hold the insurance for myself and my husband, and I am able to keep family health benefits when I retire.

My husband is two years and nine months younger than I am.

When I reach 65, can I still keep GEHA insurance until my husband reaches 65 and can start drawing Medicare on his own? I do not want him not having heath insurance when he is 62. I heard someone say that at 65 I could do Medicare Part A and keep my government health insurance, and then, when he has reached 65, I could drop the GEHA in an open season and go with Part B with a supplement.

A. Yes, you need to keep enrolled in the self and family option of your FEHB plan to ensure that your husband’s health needs are covered. As for dropping your FEHB plan when you are both covered by Medicare, you had better think twice about that. If you drop it, you will never be able to re-enroll if you later change your mind. While Medicare Part A is free (you already paid for it through payroll deductions), you’ll have to pay for Part B. Whether you need to enroll in Part B is something you have to think through. Compare what your FEHB plan will cover with what Medicare Part B covers. Then review your current and anticipated health needs.

While many retirees elect to be covered by their FEHB plan and Medicare Parts A and B, many others elect not to enroll in Part B. One answer doesn’t fit all.

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