Reg Jones Expert's View

This year’s federal employees health benefits open season runs from November 9 through December 14, with an effective date of January 1, 2016. If you are already enrolled, you can stay if the plan you have or change to another. And if you are eligible to enroll but haven’t done so, you can do that now.

Having an annual opportunity to select a plan that meets your health and financial needs is one of the real pluses of the FEHB program. And if you are enrolled in it for the five consecutive years before you retire, you can carry that coverage into retirement. If you are covered by Tricare, that time can be used to meet the five-year requirement, but only if you are actually enrolled in the FEHB program when you retire.

A unique feature to this year’s open season is the introduction of the self plus one option. It’s a feature that couples have long asked for as an alternative to two self only enrollments or one self and family enrollment.

In 2016 the average premium for employees and annuitants will increase by an average of 7.4 percent. Just be aware that this is the average. To reach that number, the premium increases in some plans and options will be lower and some higher, occasionally much higher. And, in a few cases, the self plus one option is the same as or higher than the self and family option.

Although I’ve emphasized what you can do during the annual open season, some changes can be made outside of open season. For example, new employees may enroll within 60 days of their becoming eligible for the program, and those who move outside of the area covered by a regional plan may switch to a different plan covering their new location. And OPM may announce special opportunities to change enrollments when a plan drops out of the program.

With the start of the open season upon us, you need to get ahead of the game by studying the wide range of plans and options available this year. Even if you end up staying where you are, you’ll still be better informed about what your costs and benefits will be.