Ask The Experts: Retirement

By Reg Jones

‘Quitting’ FEHB and re-enrolling

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Q. Can a retired employee quit his Federal Employees Health Benefits in retirement for, say, Tricare for Life and Medicare if retired military, and later opt to switch back to FEHB?

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FEHB re-enrollment

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Q. I was a federal employee for 26 years and, from 1987 onward, was under FERS. I left my last federal job in June 2009 at age 58, after having passed the minimum retirement age and having been enrolled in the Federal Employees Health Benefits plan over the entire 26 years of my federal employment. In June 2009, I said that I intended to take a postponed retirement, some time after I reached age 60. It is my understanding that my enrollment in FEHBP was suspended at the time I left my last federal employment, in June 2009.

I had health insurance coverage under temporary continuation of coverage, ending in December 2010.

I applied to the Office of Personnel Management for a postponed retirement on Dec. 28, 2011, by filing Form RI 92-19. OPM acknowledges having received my application in February 2012, and I have been in interim status since that time. I began receiving interim payments in March 2012.

In a phone conversation I had with OPM in February 2012, I was told that I would not be able to re-enroll in FEHBP until my retirement was finalized.

Another year has passed, and my retirement is still not finalized. I am still in interim status. Is it really impossible for me to re-enroll with FEHBP before my retirement is finalized? Does the word “annuity” apply to my interim pay? If so, it seems that I can re-enroll in FEHB now.

An article by Reg Jones on your website says, “…if you were enrolled in FEGLI or FEHBP for the five continuous years before you retired, you may re-enroll in them when your annuity begins.” This suggests that the statement made to me on the phone in February 2012 was incorrect. Could you please clarify this? If I am eligible to re-enroll in FEHBP, what procedure should I follow to re-enroll?

A. You could only have re-enrolled in the Federal Employees Health Benefits program if you retired and postponed the receipt of your annuity to a later date. You didn’t do that. Instead, you resigned from the government and later applied for a deferred annuity. Deferred annuitants cannot re-enroll in the FEHB program.

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FEHB vs. Tricare

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Q. I am a FERS employee. I will be drawing my reservist retirement June 27 at 60 years old. Can I drop my Federal Employees Health Benefits for Tricare? Can you give me details about this how long will it take, if this has to be done at open season and the grace period on the policy?

A. You can get an FEHB suspension form by calling the Office of Personnel Management’s Retirement Information Office at 1-888-767-6738. They may be able to tell you how long it takes.

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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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Suspending FEHB

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Q. I am about ready to retire and currently maintain a FEHB policy. My wife is still working and I can fall under her health plan at no extra cost, and the coverage is better. I have been told that you can “suspend” FEHB in retirement and reinstate it if need be. Is this true?

A. No, it isn’t true. About the only ones who can suspend coverage are those who are covered by the military’s Tricare program. And they can only re-enroll if they lose that coverage or during an open season.

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Suspending FEHB in favor of VA?

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Q. Can a retiree suspend his Federal Employees Health Benefits because of using the Veterans Affairs Department for care? They mention Tricare, Medicare, ChampVA and “other” programs but not VA.

A. No.

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Suspending FEHB

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Q. I’m 64½ years old, retired FERS with Federal Employees Health Benefits. No dependents. I am also retired military, but I have never used Tricare. I am now considering what to do in this open season and as I reach 65 years of age.

This is my plan:

1) Enroll in a cheaper (I have Kaiser now), more reasonably priced FEHB during open season.

2) Suspend that new FEHB coverage using form RI 79-9 to OPM.

3) Use my Tricare Standard until I reach 65 years (five months from now).

4) Find a Physician who take Tricare Standard.

5) Enroll in Medicare Part A and Part B.

Did I miss anything? Should I suspend FEHB now or only when I reach 65 years? Can you give me your thoughts on my additional dental and vision insurance through FEHB? I have only used the dental insurance and never the vision insurance. When I turn 65, will I need these with Medicare and Tricare?

A. You’ll find your answer at www.opm.gov/insure/health/faq/tricare.asp.

Just scroll down to “How can an annuitant or former spouse suspend FEHB coverage to use CHAMPVA or TRICARE.”

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Suspension of FEHB coverage

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Q. I am a federal employee with 32+ years of civil service, planning on retiring in the next five years. I have been enrolled in a Federal Employees Health Benefits plan throughout my career. My husband retired from active duty Aug. 31 with 23+ years. We had dual coverage under Tricare and FEHB since August 1995, with FEHB being primary and Tricare as secondary. Now that my husband has retired, to continue to be covered under Tricare, he had to sign up for a specific Tricare plan, for which we are now charged a monthly premium. We are trying to determine whether or not we should cancel the FEHB and save the $3,500 per year. The Tricare representatives advised my husband that we should suspend the FEHB and not cancel it, so if we decided at a later date to re-enroll in the FEHB, we could. I have also read that if I don’t have FEHB for five years prior to retiring, I won’t be able to sign up for FEHB coverage when I retire, but that I can include the time in Tricare toward that five years.

I went to the BENEFEDS and Office of Personnel Management websites and contacted a benefits and entitlements counselor through the Employee Benefits Information System to ask this question, but I am receiving conflicting information.

1. Can I suspend my FEHB and re-enroll, as long as it is during open season, at any time?

2. Can I cancel my FEHB and re-enroll, as long as it is during open season, at any time?

3. So if I cancel/suspend my FEHB and retire in five years, can I count the time in Tricare toward being enrolled in a FEHB plan?

4. If I cancel/suspend my FEHB and am no longer covered under Tricare (through no fault of my own) I can re-enroll in FEHB plan at any time; I don’t have to wait for an open season?

5. Can I sign up for a dental plan and/or a vision plan under the FEHB without being enrolled in a FEHB plan?

A. You can suspend your coverage in the FEHB in favor of Tricare. If you do, you could reactivate that coverage at any time if you were to lose Tricare coverage sometime in the future. If you canceled your FEHB coverage and were still employed, you could re-enroll at a later date; however, you would be required to maintain that FEHB coverage for five consecutive years to be able to carry it into retirement. If you canceled that coverage and retired, you wouldn’t be able to re-enroll. Retirees cannot re-enroll in the FEHB program. Finally, dental and vision coverage isn’t tied to enrollment in FEHB.

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FERS retirement and FEHB

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Q. I retired from active duty in 2005. I made a service deposit to buy my academy time. When I reach minimum retirement age+10 next month, I will have 10 years and five months of creditable service (six years and six months since hired, plus three years and 11 months purchased service), more than 240 hours of annual leave and more than 600 hours of sick leave. I’ve gotten a formal Office of Personnel Management retirement estimate to verify my understanding that I can do a MRA+10 retirement this year.

I initially used Tricare for my health insurance, however, to have the option of FEHB later. I enrolled in a Federal Employees Health Benefits self-and-family plan during the open season in 2010.

1. If I leave federal employment next month, I understand I can start a permanently reduced annuity and continue my FEHB. If I choose to defer my annuity to lessen the permanent reduction (say until age 60), am I still able to elect FEHB once I start my FERS annuity? If so, can I commence it when I start my annuity, or do I have to wait until an open season?

2. If I leave federal employment next month and start my FERS annuity (reduced), can I suspend my FEHB coverage and reinstate at a later date?

3. Do either of the above choices affect FEHB coverage for my spouse (assuming that I have self-and-family FEHB)? I plan to elect the smallest survivor benefit in my FERS annuity.

A. If you retire on an immediate annuity, are enrolled in the FEHB program at that time, and the combination of Tricare and FEHB are at least five continuous years, you can continue that coverage into retirement. If you postpone the receipt of your annuity to a later date to avoid the age penalty, you may restart your FEHB coverage when your annuity begins. When you do so, you can select the coverage and plan that you prefer. If you resign from the government and later apply for a deferred annuity, you won’t be eligible to re-enroll in the FEHB program.

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Suspending annuity

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Q. My mother has a small monthly annuity from OPM based on civil service with the Veterans Administration.  This annuity income pushes her over the total income cap for other unrelated health benefits.  Is it possible to suspend (but not forfeit) her OPM annuity.  The goal would be to give her the option of restarting the annuity if she determined that she wanted the annuity income at some future date?

A. No. She could forgo her annuity entirely, but she wouldn’t be able to restart it.

 


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