Choosing a Health Plan Have You Pulling Your Hair Out?

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By on November 4, 2009 in Current Events with 0 Comments

By Colleen M. Murphy

It’s that time of year again. Much like the holiday shopping season when there is so much to do in so little time, the federal open season for health insurance is now upon us. Just like those holiday gifts that get more and more expensive each year, health insurance costs are increasing, leaving many of us struggling to tighten our already tight budgets. No wonder we’re pulling our hair out.

As infuriating as the premium increases for health insurance 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 21 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 those holiday gifts 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 12 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. Last year, Blue Cross Blue Shield gave them one when they increased the cost of the popular standard plan by 13 percent. While many remained in the plan, some switched to the lower cost basic plan and still others changed health insurers.

Fortunately, federal employees have help when it comes to evaluating their options. For instance, OPM has a plan comparison tool on its Web site; 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.

Fifteen minutes on a decision support Web site 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, today federal employees still have the choice of whether to be informed, savvy health care consumers or not. Take advantage of decision support. Find the plan that’s right for you. Your hair will thank you.

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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.

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