Ask The Experts: Retirement

By Reg Jones

Health benefits after spouse’s death

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Q. Can a widow of a retired federal worker pick up health benefits after his death? He did not have health benefits at the time of his death.

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Drawing from spouse’s retirement

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Q. I retired from CSRS on disability. I have my 40 quarters. My wife is retired from Social Security. Can I draw from her account at age 62?

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Affordable Care Act

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Q. I heard on television that, under the Affordable Care Act, children can stay on your medical plan until age 26, but spouses are not considered dependents. My wife is a few years younger than me and, when I retire next year, will she still be covered under Federal Employees Health Benefits?

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First-year rule

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Q. In the first year retirement, you can get your full check after you retire, say, in June, but if you already made $60,000 at that point in combined income with your wife, do you end up paying 85 percent of it back?

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Government pension offset

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Q. I am under FERS with a CSRS component (10 years CSRS, 15-year break, FERS for the past 20 years). If my spouse receives Social Security benefits based on my work history and I predecease him, and he begins receiving an annuity, will his Social Security payments be reduced or possibly eliminated under the government pension offset? He has enough quarters to qualify on his own record and is receiving payments now. However, under my records, his payments would be higher. I will retire in a year, at age 66, and would like to know before we request that his payments be based on my work history.

A. If he receives an annuity from a retirement system where he didn’t pay Social Security taxes, such as CSRS, any Social Security spousal or survivor benefit would be subject to the government pension offset.

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Survivor annuity and insurance

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Q. I’m a 53-year-old CSRS employee with 34 years of service. I may have the option of an early-out in May. I would like to carry my Federal Employees Health Benefits into retirement. I will choose no survivor benefit, but I would like to have my wife keep my insurance after my death. Can I do this?

A. No, you can’t. To be eligible to continue her FEHB coverage, she would have to be covered by the self and family option when you die and be entitled to a survivor benefit. Note: You are required by law to provide a full survivor annuity to your spouse unless she agrees in a notarized writing to a lesser amount or none at all.

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FEHB re-enrollment

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Q. Before retirement under FERS, I canceled my Federal Employees Health Benefits to be covered by my wife’s FEHB. Now my wife is resigning. She has no minimum retirement age with 25 years. She will not be allowed to continue FEHB. Am I allowed to re-enroll in self and family (code 2F) as a retiree with 35 years (33 self, two under wife) of FEHB? If I am, how soon can I re-enroll?

A. Yes. And you can do it from 31 days before the loss of coverage through 60 days after.

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FEHB and postponed retirement

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Q. I would appreciate a clarification of eligibility for Federal Employees Health Benefits under postponed retirement. I selected a postponed retirement and have recently begun receiving benefits. I may, at some point, want to sign up for FEHB as a FERS retiree. In my situation, in my last government position (as an appointee), I had continuous coverage under my wife’s FEHB as a part of a family plan. Since I left the government position, I have continued to be covered under my wife’s FEHB family plan. As I understand it, postponed retirees who were enrolled at the time they left government can re-enroll once they start benefits. In my case: Am I eligible for benefits even though I was not enrolled myself but was covered under my wife’s plan? Given that I am still covered under my wife’s plan, can I, if it makes sense, enroll myself in an FEHB plan?

A. Yes, but only if your wife switches to self-only at the same time during an open season or if she passes on before you while you are still covered by her self and family enrollment.

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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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Remarriage and survivor annuity

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Q. I have been a CSRS retiree for six years. I am getting remarried shortly. I want to ensure my Federal Employees Health Benefits continue to be available to my spouse after my death. I understand I have two years from date of marriage to elect a survivor annuity. May I select either a full survivor benefit or a reduced survivor benefit and still retain the FEHB from my surviving spouse? If reduced is an option, how much can it be reduced and still retain the FEHB?

A. Because you are a CSRS retiree, with your spouse’s written and notarized consent, you can elect any amount from $1 a year on up. If the amount of your survivor spouse’s annuity isn’t sufficient to pay the premiums, he or she can pay them directly to the Office of Personnel Management.

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Annuity election

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Q. I am a 59-year-old CSRS employee with 39+ years of service. OPM Form 2801 indicates my spouse needs to sign the Annuity Election section. Is this signature a requirement before I can retire, or can I just ignore it since my spouse isn’t ready for me to retire?

A. I assume you are referring to the section of the SF 2801, entitled, Spouse’s Consent to Survivor Election. That only applies if you aren’t electing a full survivor annuity for your wife. If you are providing less than a full survivor annuity, or none at all, not only is she required to complete that section of the form but her signature will have to be witnessed by a notary.

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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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Health benefits after retirement

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Q. I am a 51-year-old FERS employee whose minimum retirement age is 56. I will have over 30 years of service when I reach the minimum retirement age.  A couple of years ago, I went under my wife’s health plan.  We incorrectly assumed that she needed five years to become vested and that we could just stay under her plan when we retired (as with FERS). However, she is a Non-Appropriated Funds Defense Department employee and would need 15 years.

I am picking up my Federal Employees Health Benefits insurance again so that I will have five years under the plan when I reach the MRA. If I were to retire at 56, my understanding is that I can (a) begin receiving a reduced annuity immediately or (b) defer receiving my annuity until I reach 62. I was told that if I begin immediately receiving a reduced annuity, I can keep my FEHB and still benefit from the government contribution.

What happens if I defer the annuity until I am 62? Will I need to pay the whole premium, plus 2 percent, for the years between 56 and 62? My wife will likely work until I am 62, so could I go under her health insurance between 56 and 62 and then pick up my FEHB again when I begin collecting my annuity?  Under either of those scenarios, could I change my coverage from self-only to self and family to add my wife to my coverage when I am 62?

A. I think you are suffering from a misunderstanding, which I hope to clear up. If you will have 30 years of service when you reach your MRA, you could retire on an immediate unreduced annuity. And you would also be entitled to the special retirement supplement, which approximates the Social Security benefit you earned while a FERS employee. If you had five years of continuous enrollment in the FEHB, you could carry that coverage into retirement and, unless you are a Postal Service employee, the premiums you’d pay as a retiree would be the same as those you have been paying as an employee.

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Survivor annuity

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Q. Regarding your article on survivor benefits published Feb. 18, it was my understanding that under CSRS, an employee could designate a permanent reduction in their annuity to enable a surviving spouse to receive a portion of the annuity upon the employee’s death after retirement. Since I saw no reference to this in the article, and it would have no impact on the employee while still working, is my understanding incorrect? Outdated?

A. That column included information about specific death benefits available to the survivors of federal employees who die in service. What you are asking about is the survivor benefit that a retiring employee can elect for a spouse. Under CSRS, a full survivor benefit is 55 percent of the annuity a retiree is entitled to before any reductions are made in it for such things as federal taxes, health benefits, etc. Under FERS, a full survivor annuity is 50 percent. Both systems permit the election of a lesser amount but only with the signed and notarized consent of the spouse.

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Survivor annuity

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Q. I am in CSRS. My husband has never worked for the government. I have 37 years working at the Defense Department, and I am going to retire Dec 31. Can my husband draw on my retirement rather than Social Security now? Does he have to wait until he is 65? Or do I have to die before he can draw this?

A. Assuming you elect a survivor annuity for him when you retire, he will only receive that benefit if you die. P.S. You have to elect a full survivor annuity for your husband unless he agrees in a notarized statement to a lesser amount or none at all.

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Medicare Part A

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Q. I’ll be 65 this month. I retired from civil service in 2008. I’m working part time as a city employee and still paying into Medicare. My wife is 60 years old, and I want to keep her with my Federal Employees Health Benefits program. Since I qualify for free Part A, do I have to enroll with Medicare for this, and will my FEHB remain primary for my wife and me?

A. Since you are still working, you don’t have to enroll in Medicare Part A. However, I can’t think of a good reason not to do so, even though it will remain secondary to your FEHB plan until you stop working.

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Survivor annuity

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Q. My husband has 28 years and I have 27 years under FERS as civilians with the Defense Department (Air Force). My husband has been carrying Federal Employees Health Benefits insurance for our family for the past nine years. If he decides to retire early or prior to me, will he have to select an annuity for me so I would have health insurance coverage if he was to pass? I wouldn’t want to have to continue to work and carry insurance for five years prior to retiring if this is the case.

A. He wouldn’t have to elect a survivor annuity for you. As long as you were covered under the self and family option, you could continue your coverage by having the premiums taken out of your pay if still employed, or your annuity.

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Cancel FEHB coverage?

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Q. If I am 100 percent disabled due to a service-connected disability and entitled to free health care with the Veterans Affairs Department for life, does it make sense to cancel the Federal Employees Health Benefits insurance that I have had since I retired in 2004? I am also covered under my wife’s health insurance through her former employer.

A. I can’t tell you if it makes sense. That’s something you’ll have to figure out. Review the benefits you receive from VA and those you and your wife receive both from her employer plan and your FEHB enrollment. Keep in mind that former employer plans can be reduced or terminated, unlike those under the FEHB program. If you decide to continue your FEHB enrollment, you might consider selecting a plan with adequate coverage but low cost.

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Health insurance change

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Q. I am a 69-year-old female FERS retiree, covered under parts A and B of Medicare and Blue Cross/Blue Shield basic for federal employees. I also have my spouse insured on this plan. My spouse is a military retiree, so we have Tricare for Life, and he also has parts A and B of Medicare.

I would like to change to the less expensive BC/BS health insurance, but I want to keep the doctors we currently have. Is there a possibility I would have greater out-of-pocket expense with the standard BC/BS? I would like to take the difference in premiums and subscribe to a dental plan.

A. To find out if you’ll be able to keep the doctors you now have, you’d need to check with Blue Cross/Blue Shield. While there is a possibility that you would have greater out-of-pocket expenses with the lower-cost option, the only way to find out is to check with your plan and learn how that option handles claims from members who are covered by Medicare parts A and B.

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Primary vs. secondary insurance

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Q. I have been covered by my wife’s GEHA plan for the past 10 years, and I continue to be covered under her policy (as do our two kids; we are in a self and family plan). Two new variables are coming into play for my health care: 1) I will be eligible for Medicare coverage in two months; and  2) I just started receiving a federal annuity. (Note: I am eligible to receive Social Security but have not yet signed up).

I have two related questions:

1) If I continue to remain under my wife’s Federal Employees Health Benefits policy (assuming that I can), what happens if I sign up for Medicare? Which is the primary insurance, and is it more beneficial to have FEHB or Medicare as the primary insurance?

2) If I were to register for Medicare coverage (and if I am still under FEHB coverage via my wife), does it make sense to register for both Part A and Part B, or just Part A of Medicare? Insurance?

A. Because you are retired, Medicare would be primary and your FEHB coverage secondary. It doesn’t make any sense not to sign up for Medicare Part A because you’ve already paid for that benefit through payroll deductions. Whether you need to sign up for Part B is decision you’ll have to make. To get a better understanding of the relationship between the FEHB and Medicare, go to www.opm.gov/insure/health/medicare/index.asp

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