Colleen M. Murphy
It’s that time of year again. The
start of federal open season for health insurance is just a few weeks away. Many
health plans are increasing their premiums, leaving federal employees struggling to tighten their already
tight budgets. Other health plans are changing benefit levels, reducing service
areas, or dropping from the Federal Employees Health Benefits Program all
together. As infuriating as these changes are, federal employees fortunately
have a wide range of medical plan options to choose from, along with the help
they need to make an informed decision.
However, often employees are
reluctant to change their plans—even if their plans no longer suit their
personal and financial circumstances—because:
- Choice can be overwhelming. Federal
employees have an average of 20 medical plan options, in addition to an array
of dental and vision plan choices. It’s like standing in front of a wall of
flat-screen TVs and being so overwhelmed that you either make a rash purchase
or leave empty-handed.
- Employees can be apathetic. In any one
year, few of the two million federal employees actively shop for health care
coverage. In other words, like many of us with health insurance, they spend
more time buying flat-screen TVs than they do selecting a health plan. The
typical federal employee spends four to five percent of their income on health
care (out-of-pocket expenses and annual premium), and only 14 percent control
their costs by participating in a Health Care Spending Account.
- Change can be painful. Most
federal employees stay with their current plan unless there is a real reason to
change. However, as plans change and one’s personal profile changes, a plan
that was the most cost effective in prior years may no longer be the best
Getting past these barriers is
possible and a variety of options are available to federal employees who wish
to find help. For instance, OPM has a plan comparison tool on its website;
other federal agencies provide Consumers Checkbook; most health plans have tools
that detail their benefits; and the PlanSmartChoice decision support site is
available free to all federal employees.
minutes on a decision support website will help federal employees to become
better health care consumers. By devoting a small amount of time to evaluating
options, federal employees can ensure that they’ve chosen the medical plan that
best meets their individual needs.
In the future, more can be done
to control the cost of health insurance in the Federal Employees Health
Benefits Program. Regardless, federal employees have the choice of whether or
not to be informed, savvy health care consumers or not. Take advantage of decision
support. Find the plan that’s right for you.
Colleen M. Murphy is the
President and CEO of Asparity Decision Solutions. Hundreds of thousands of
federal employees have used PlanSmartChoice, the company’s decision support
tools, to choose health insurance coverage.