Ask The Experts: Retirement

By Reg Jones

CSRS, Social Security, Tricare and BCBS

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Q. I worked and completed my 40 quarters for Social Security before I started working for the federal government (CSRS). Will I have to take a reduction too?

Secondly, I am retired now from CSRS, and we have Blue Cross Blue Shield health insurance.

Thirdly, I start drawing my military retirement starting in July, and we are eligible for Tricare. My second question: Should we switch to Tricare Standard and suspend our BCBS? It would be about a $450-a-month raise (the $450 is what we pay per month for the BCBS).

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Insurance after divorce

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Q. I was on Blue Cross/Blue Shield for 15 years through my husband’s employment with a city, but the city contracted with Coventry Health Care instead, about one year and two months ago. I have also been with Tricare (formerly CHAMPUS) through my husband’s retirement from the Navy in 1993. We are divorcing after 37 years of marriage, and I would like to switch to BC/BS in FEHB through my federal employment. If I retire before I have vested five years in BC/BS, will I not be able to take it into retirement? Someone told me that if I had been with TRICARE all these years, that somehow I was already considered vested in a federal health care insurance and could switch over to BC/BS and take the health insurance into my retirement. Is that true? Or do I need to actually work for five more years?

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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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FEHB and Tricare

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Q. My husband and I are both military retirees and have had Tricare for over 38 years. When my husband turned 65, he had to sign up for Medicare and take Part B to retain Tricare for Life. He also dropped off of the Federal Employees Health Benefits plan and then retired from his civilian federal government job and I changed to single coverage on FEHB under me (I am still working as a civilian federal employee).

I am considering retiring this year and want to know if I need to add him to my FEHB for him to have access to FEHB in the future if we need that. Do I need to put him on my FEHB next open season to retain this benefit in the future?

A. To retain FEHB coverage, he would need to be covered under your FEHB enrollment when you died. Since you can’t predict when that will happen, it would be wise to change your coverage from self-only to self and family while you are still healthy.

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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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FEHB and Tricare

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Q. I am retired under CSRS and have Federal Employees Health Benefits coverage. In June, I will begin drawing my Navy Reserve retirement and will be eligible for Tricare. What is the best way to handle both coverages together? I have heard that if I am covered under FEHB, that has to be the primary and Tricare will be secondary.

A. You are correct that your FEHB enrollment would be primary and Tricare secondary. Whether you should keep both enrollments or suspend your FEHB coverage is a matter you’ll have to decide.

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High or low option for FEHB?

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Q. I recently became eligible for Tricare Standard through my retirement with the National Guard. I am a federal worker who plans to retire soon. I have always carried high option with my Federal Employees Health Benefits. Now that I have Tricare as a secondary, does it make sense to switch to low or standard option with FEHB?

A. That’s something you’ll have to figure out for yourself. To do that, you’ll need to compare the coverage under each option with what Tricare offers. However, I’ve been told by others in your situation that electing a lower level of coverage has worked out well for them.

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Annuity reduction and health insurance

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Q. I am a CSRS employee and plan to retire March 29.

1. Will I be on the annuity roll for my first check on April 1 or May 1?

2. Will I incur a reduction in my annuity because of the retirement date?

3. I will turn 65 in April, so I will be eligible for Medicare. I have had Federal Employees Health Benefits for four years, and I am Tricare-eligible. I am aware that my time with Tricare will count toward my five years and that I can suspend my FEHB and go with Medicare/Tricare for Life. What type of paperwork will the Office of Personnel Management need showing my eligibility for Tricare? Should I provide this with my retirement paperwork?

A. You will be on the annuity roll in April and be entitled to your first annuity payment in May. Based on your proposed retirement date, there would be no reduction in your annuity.

Your Tricare coverage only counts if you have been, in total, covered by the FEHB program and Tricare for the five consecutive years before you retire and are enrolled in the FEHB program on the day you retire. You should visit you personnel office and ask them what confirmation they require and to be sure that you are, in fact, eligible to carry your FEHB coverage into retirement.

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Tricare for active-duty orders

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Q. I am a federal employee and am going on active-duty orders for more than 30 days, which makes me eligible for Tricare for 180 days before my deployment, during my deployment and 180 days after my deployment. Can I suspend my FEHB during that period or just the time that I am on orders for?

A. Yes. See www.opm.gov/insure/health/eligibility/tricare.asp.

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Reinstating FEHB

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Q. I am a CSRS employee with 34 years of federal service. I am going to retire in 2013. If I suspend my Federal Employees Health Benefits to go under my husband’s Tricare, will I still be able to reinstate my FEHB any time I want during an open season after I become an annuitant? Also, will I still be able to join the long-term federal health insurance plan?

A. Yes to both questions. If you suspend your coverage to be under Tricare, you can re-enroll in the FEHB program during any open season. You can enroll in the Federal Long-Term Care Insurance Program as an employee or a retiree.

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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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Suspending FEHB

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Q. I turn 65 in March and would like to suspend my FEHB, but I am concerned that I won’t have health coverage until Medicare kicks in. How should I proceed? I’ve have been told that you can suspend your FEHB, but I don’t know the process or how long the grace period is after such an action.

A. There are only two ways you can suspend your FEHB enrollment. 1) If you are enrolling in Tricare,  CHAMPVA or a Medicare Advantage plan or 2) If you are going to be carried under your spouse’s own FEHB enrollment.

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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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Tricare vs. FEHB

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Q. I am a new federal employee with Tricare Prime that I am paying for since I am retired military. Is there any advantage in taking Federal Employees Health Benefits. If so, what would it be? Second, can I only sign up for the Federal Flexible Spending Account Program to take care of my co-payments and additional dental cost if I don’t sign up for FEHB?

A. As to your first question, I have only anecdotal advice to give you. Some employees who are covered by Tricare have told me that they enrolled in the least expensive FEHB plan as a backup in case they lost their Tricare coverage or decided to leave the program. As to your second question, you don’t have to be enrolled in an FEHB plan to sign up for FSAFEDS.

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Retirement and insurance

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Q. As a FERS civil servant, if I am covered under Tricare for the last five years before retirement, and I enroll in FEHB just before retiring, can I maintain FEHB in retirement and can my active-duty spouse be covered under FEHB if we choose to do so after I’ve retired?

A. Yes.

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Early retirement

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Q. I am a 6c federal employee with a retirement 6c date of Sept. 28, 1996, and because of my 11 years of military service and buyback, I have a retirement service computation date of Aug. 26, 1985. I am four years away from 20 years of 6c time. However, I might have an opportunity to pursue a career in which I could make substantially more with the ability of working until age 65 if I desire.

I should also point out that after my 11 years of military service, I continued with the reserves and will obtain a military pension at age 60, as well as Tricare benefits.

What would I lose by leaving early? I know the Social Security supplement will not be available, but I would be working longer anyway because I have a young child. Would it be considered just a normal federal retirement (FERS)? I am not worried about medical due to my military service?

A. If you left before completing 20 years of covered service, your deferred annuity at age 60 would be calculated using the standard formula, not the more generous one for law enforcement officers.

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Military buyback and retirement benefits

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Q. I am contemplating buying back 20 years’ military time (I am retired military drawing a pension) at a cost of approximately $14,500. I will receive approximately $500 a month more should I buy back the military time and retire under FERS. I understand my military retirement check will stop when I retire from the federal government. Are any of my other retirement benefits (Tricare, commissary, exchange, dental insurance, VA disability) affected? Please cite an official publication where this information is located as well.

A. It’s my understanding that you will lose none of your other military benefits if you make a deposit to get credit for your active-duty service and waive your military retired pay. However, since this is a site for civilian employees and retirees, you’ll have to confirm that by checking with your branch of service.

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FEHB, Medicare and Tricare

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Q. I am totally lost in getting real answers to our approach to health insurance in the coming years. I retired from CSRS in 2008 at the GS-15 level, and my wife will retire under FERS in 2014 at the GS-14 level. We both have our own FEHB. This year, when I turn 60, we are also eligible for Tricare, since I retired from the USAR. And then, when we turn 62, we are eligible for Medicare Part A, and then at 65, Medicare Part B. We are both in great shape, but we are having trouble trying to figure out our approach; presently we are 59 and 58. The options we came up with are:

1. FEHB and Medicare Part A

2. FEHB and Medicare parts A and B

3. Tricare and Medicare parts A and B

4. FEHB and Tricare and Medicare parts A and B

Any recommendation or approach to untangle this mess would be appreciated.

A: As you’ve concluded, there aren’t any easy answers. Such decisions are personal. However, a few generalizations can be made. First, each of you will be first eligible for Medicare parts A and B at age 65. Second, if you choose to be covered by Tricare, you must be enrolled in parts A and B. Third, if your choose Tricare, you can suspend FEHB coverage and, if things with Tricare don’t work out, reactivate that enrollment. Finally, any decision you make needs to balance cost with current and expected need. If you can’t project your needs far enough, think about the worst things that could happen to you and see which combination of benefits would give you the best protection at the lowest cost.

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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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