Reg Jones Expert's View

Reg Jones

Relatively few employees, retirees, and survivors — only around five percent each year — take advantage of their opportunity to change plans or options that this year continues through December 9.

It seems to me there are two possibilities. First, they are either happy (or at least not too unhappy) with the plan they are in. Second, either the time it would take to review all the plans or simple inertia result in their putting it on the back burner until it’s too late to make a change.

Remember, if you don’t make a change, your current coverage continues next year (except in those few cases of plan dropouts or restrictions in coverage areas) and you will be subject to the new coverage terms and premium rates. There could be unpleasant surprises in one or the other or both which you might not realize until it’s too late to do anything about it.

What about that small percentage who actually do change plans during open season? Experience tells me that there are three powerful motives to do that. First is the need to cover an expensive medical condition to the maximum extent possible. Second is the desire to have access to the right doctors and hospitals that aren’t either covered or covered adequately by their current plan. And third, to find a plan with lower premiums.

This last reason for a change may be either the result of good health – why pay so much for a benefit I’m not using? – or the cost exceeding one’s ability to pay the premiums. This is not an uncommon reason for retirees whose annuities were small to begin with.

Is there a way to avoid going through all the plans and zeroing in on costs and benefits that are important to you? Yes, there are two in fact. First is OPM’s plan comparison chart, available at www.opm.gov/healthcare-insurance/healthcare/plan-information/compare-plans.

The second is Consumer Checkbook’s online resource that can help you to make an informed decision. Many agencies provide access as a service to their employees, or go to www.checkbook.org/newhig2/hig.cfm.