The annual federal benefits open season starts Monday (November 13) and runs through December 11, the annual opportunity for federal employees to join the FEHB and/or FEDVIP programs for the upcoming calendar year, or to change plans, or switch without among self-only, self plus one or self and family coverage.

Retirees also can join FEVIP if not already enrolled, but in general they cannot newly enroll in FEHB, unless they are rehired as annuitants. Retirees currently enrolled in either program can make the same types of enrollment changes as active employees.

For 2018, the average enrollee premium in the FEHB is rising 6.1 percent over 2017, following increases of the prior two years of 7.4 and 6.2 percent. However, as always there is substantial variation in that average, with some increases much higher and others–including two of the national plans–decreasing. Premiums in FEDVIP meanwhile on average are rising by 1.3 percent for dental plans and falling by 0.5 percent for vision plans.

Also during open season, employees (but not retirees) can choose to have health care and/or dependent care flexible spending accounts for next year. The maximum is rising to $2,650 for the former and remaining $5,000 for the latter. While FEHB and FEDVIP enrollments continue from one year to the next if unchanged, a new enrollment is required each year for FSAs. Also, a new enrollment is required to take advantage of the health care FSA’s feature of allowing up to $500 in unspent money to be carried forward into the next year. In the dependent care program, there is a 10-week grace period into the next year to use any money not used in a plan year. Apart from those exceptions, money in those accounts is use or lose.

The open season does not apply to the FEGLI life insurance program or to the FLTCIP long-term care insurance program. Outside of the rare FEGLI open seasons–there was one last year, the first since 2004–employees can join that program or increase existing coverage only on experiencing certain life events or on providing proof of insurability. Both employees and retirees can apply for the FLTCIP program at any time, subject to underwriting; in that program’s rare open seasons, active employees (although not retirees) can apply using a shortened version of underwriting.