Reg Jones Expert's View

Over the last three weeks, I’ve been exploring the pluses and minuses of early retirement and the rules covering the Voluntary Early Retirement Authority (VERA) and Voluntary Separation Incentive Program (VSIP). Beyond determining whether you are ready to leave, either by resignation or retirement, you need to know if you’ll be able to continue your Federal Employees Health Benefits and Federal Employees’ Group Life Insurance coverage.

As a rule, you can only continue your FEHB and/or FEGLI coverage if you are 1) currently enrolled, 2) have been enrolled for at least five years or from your earliest opportunity to enroll, and 3) are retiring on an immediate annuity. While there is an automatic waiver of the FEHB five-year rule if you are accepting an offer of early retirement, no waiver of that rule is possible for FEGLI. Nor are waivers of the “currently enrolled” or “retiring on an immediate annuity” requirements available under current law for either program.

So, what happens if you aren’t eligible to carry your FEHB and/or FEGLI coverage into retirement? Under the FEHB program, you’ll be given a 31-day extension of coverage at no cost to you. After that you can drop your coverage, covert to an individual contract or request Temporary Continuation of Coverage. TCC will let you keep your FEHB coverage for up to 18 months. However, you’ll have to pay the full premiums plus 2 percent to cover administrative costs.

Under the FEGLI program, you’ll be granted the same 31-day extension of coverage that’s available in the FEHB program. However, if you aren’t eligible to continue your FEGLI coverage in retirement, your choices are limited. You can drop the coverage or convert all or part of your insurance into a private policy at your own expense.

The rules are simpler under the other two insurance programs. If you have FLTCIP long-term care insurance you can continue it on separation whether you are eligible for retirement or not, as long as you continue to pay premiums. If you’re retiring, you can have the premiums withheld from your annuity. If you separate before eligibility for retirement, you can arrange to pay the premiums directly.

Under the FEDVIP vision-dental insurance plan, all retirees can continue coverage – there is no five-year rule. Those who separate without eligibility for retirement cannot continue coverage although those who retire on a FERS “minimum retirement age with 10 years of service” annuity can reenroll in FEDVIP when they start receiving their annuity.

Next time I want to explore and area that will be important to those of you who don’t receive an offer of early retirement or a “buyout” but who want to leave government and still hold on to their future retirement benefits. I’m talking about deferred and postponed annuities.