Health Exams and Preventive Visits: Critical Components of a Retirement Plan

When was the last time you went to the doctor? Federal employees have benefits available to them to help them maintain their overall health.

It is never too early to be proactive and ensure we are prepared for our health in retirement. Our health, unlike the FERS annuity or the Social Security pension, is not guaranteed. Our health is more like the Thrift Saving Plan. We must take the initiative and be engaged with our health throughout our employment and continue stewardship of our health to continue during our retirement. 

Almost one-third of Americans according to a Bankrate online survey conducted in 2020 did not seek medical care because of the expenses of doctor visits, medications, vaccinations, annual exams, and vision checks. The website onlinedoctor last year shared that 18% of Americans had not been to a doctor in five years or more. 

Federal employees should be taking advantage of two distinct benefits to sustain their health. First, sick leave, accruing at the rate of 4 hours for each biweekly pay period, can be used for medical appointments. Second, employees and their families can select the most appropriate health care plan from among the many options offered within the Federal Employee Health Benefits (FEHB) program. 

The government pays anywhere from 70% to 72% of the cost of the various premiums. And pre-tax dollars can be used to pay for the participant’s contribution while an employee. In retirement, the government will continue to subsidize the premiums. Unfortunately, retiree’s premiums are paid with after-tax dollars. 

Furthermore, federal employees can choose from fee-for-service (FFS) plans, health maintenance organizations (HMOs), consumer-driven health plans (CDHPs), and high deductible health plans (HDHPs). Participants can also change plans each year during the open season period each year or when experiencing an FEHB-specific qualifying life event. 

There is no excuse for full-time federal employees and their families to neglect their health. Wellness is a focus of intentions, choices, and actions as we strive toward an optimal sought goal. It is achieved by striving to balance choices to further our state of health.

So, what should federal employees do to ensure their health is on track for retirement? Each of us every year should make it a priority to use our annual sick leave and FEHB plan to schedule a physical examination.

A simple strategy to make certain you and your family members have an annual physical is to target the month of birth for the visit. Another approach can be to do it at the end of the year. One could use otherwise “lost” annual leave instead of sick leave for medical appointments. 

All of us are familiar with the concept of a health physical exam which includes a review of our health history combined with various laboratory tests. There is a growing consensus, however, among some health professionals that Americans do not need to have an annual physical. The American Association of Retired People (AARP) and others have gone on record questioning the need for such an examination every year.

This belief is shored up by Medicare’s approach to health for seniors. Medicare (Part B) does not cover the expenses of an annual physical while some Medicare Advantage (Part C) plans may cover them. 

At age 65 offers a no-cost “Welcome to Medicare” preventive visit. This first visit and all subsequent annual wellness visits do not include a physical examination. The wellness visits are not as comprehensive as a full physical. 

The health care professional during the visit will have you complete a health risk assessment to evaluate your current health, assess your risk factors, and evaluate your family history. Your medication history will be reviewed, and you will be screened for possible memory problems. 

No blood or other lab tests are included in the Medicare (Part B) annual wellness visits. Maintaining an FEHB plan or enrolling in a Medicare Advantage Plan (Part C) can ensure you and your spouse can continue a more robust annual physical routine during retirement 

Some of us will check our Thrift Savings Plan and other investments every day to see how well we are doing on the road to retirement. But how many of us are actively concerned with monitoring our health profile going into retirement?

About the Author

Francis Xavier (FX) Bergmeister retired from the USMC and the F.B.I. Consider following him on LinkedIn as he shares articles from others about retirement and other financial topics. He also provides retirement seminars thru Federal Career Experts.