This fall has witnessed one of the largest offers of early retirement in the history of government. I’m referring to the Voluntary Early Retirement Act offers made to tens of thousands of Postal Service employees.
While most of the water cooler conversations about whether to stay or go have revolved around the financial viability of taking early retirement, one question has stymied decision-making more than any other. Here it is: "If I’m enrolled in the Federal Employees Health Benefits program but have fewer than five years of continuous coverage, can I continue my health benefits coverage in retirement?"
Fortunately, the answer is an unequivocal yes. If you retire under your agency’s early-out authority, your agency will attach a memorandum to your retirement application stating that you meet the requirements for a pre-approved waiver of the five-year requirement. And that’ll be that.
On the other hand, if you aren’t retiring under a VERA and don’t meet the criteria to receive a pre-approved waiver, you can still apply to OPM for an individual waiver. But I have to warn you in advance, while OPM has been given the authority to grant individual waivers, it rarely does so. That’s because the criteria are so stringent. To grant a waiver OPM must find that it would be against equity and good conscience not to do so. Not surprisingly, situations that meet those criteria are rare.
Still, if you are about to retire without an early out and won’t be eligible to carry your FEHB coverage into retirement, it wouldn’t hurt to make your best case for being granted a waiver. At worst, you’ll be turned down. At best, you’ll be approved for one.