I don’t know how often you read the news about what’s going on in the private sector. But if you do, you may have noticed the not so gradual erosion of health benefits coverage provided to its retirees. Major corporations have either reduced what they provide to retirees – if they offered such coverage in the first place – or handed off that financial hot potato to their unions.
So, while you’re getting accustomed to the higher premiums you may have to pay for your coverage under the Federal Employees Health Benefits Program, you may also want to offer thanks to the government for providing the most flexible, dependable, and financially secure health benefits program in the world.
To make sure that you can carry your health benefits coverage into retirement, you’ll need to be enrolled in the FEHB program for the five years before you retire or from your first opportunity to enroll in it. That doesn’t mean that you have to be enrolled in the same plan for five years, only that you have been enrolled in the program. For example, you could have changed plans during every open season for the last five years and still be eligible to carry your coverage into retirement.
Even f you don’t meet the five-year or first opportunity criteria, it may still be possible for you to carry your FEHB coverage into retirement. If you are retiring under an agency or OPM approved buyout or early retirement authority, you’ll be granted a pre-approved waiver.
Even if you don’t qualify, you can always ask OPM to grant you a waiver. However, I’d be less than honest if I told you that you’d have much chance of getting it. You would have to be facing a situation where it would be against equity and good conscience for them not to grant you a waiver. That’s a pretty high hurdle.
Returning to my opening remarks, even on those days when we think the cost of our coverage is a trial to be borne, we need to reflect on what that trial would be like if we didn’t have that coverage. Gives me the shudders!