Federal worker health premiums to rise 7.2% on average

By Joe Davidson
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, October 1, 2010; 10:32 PM

Federal employees' health insurance premiums will increase at a far greater rate than their pay next year, but less than the premiums of many private-sector workers.

The average increase for enrollees in the Federal Employee Health Benefits Program will be 7.2 percent, the Office of Personnel Management said Friday. That's significantly more than their average pay raise, which is slated to be 1.4 percent in 2011.

Federal retirees are not likely to get any cost-of-living adjustment, just as they got none this year. In dollars, federal workers will pay, on average, $5.53 more each pay period for self-only coverage and $11.45 more for family coverage.

Increased premiums "will be difficult for federal annuitants to bear in a year when no retirement cost-of-living adjustment is expected and when the federal employee pay raise is anticipated to be minimal or could be cut altogether," said Margaret L. Baptiste, president of the National Active and Retired Federal Employees Association.

Federal employees and retirees will be able to change, or select, health insurance plans and dental and vision coverage during an "open season" scheduled from Nov. 8 through Dec. 13.

Most federal employees, 61 percent, are covered by Blue Cross Blue Shield, and more federal workers, nearly 46 percent of the total, choose the BCBS standard option than any other plan. The standard option premium increase will be 6.9 percent for self-only coverage and 7.6 percent for family coverage, according to OPM. That amounts to $5.58 more every two weeks for singles, for a total biweekly out-of-pocket cost of $86.39, BCBS said. The out-of-pocket biweekly cost for families will increase by $14.14, to $199.20. BCBS basic option rates will rise 12.5 percent for both self-only and family coverage, significantly more than the average for FEHBP plans. That amounts to $5.82 more for single coverage every two weeks, for a biweekly total of $52.32, according to BCBS. Family coverage will increase by $13.62, for a biweekly total of $122.53.

For 2011, "we have eliminated enrollee cost sharing for preventive care services, added incentives for tobacco cessation, and, in accordance with the Affordable Care Act, added coverage for dependents up to age 26," OPM Director John Berry said. "Even with these new benefits, premiums will rise less this year than they did last year."

The preventive care and adult-child coverage account for a 1.7 percent average increase in premiums, according to OPM.

Union leaders were glad to see the new offerings and an average premium increase smaller than last year's 8.8 percent. Nonetheless, "we believe that FEHBP costs and premium increases are too high," said Colleen M. Kelley, president of the National Treasury Employees Union.

John Gage, president of the American Federation of Government Employees, said "any and all increases make it difficult for lower-paid workers to achieve health security. There are already tens of thousands of full-time federal employees who do not participate in FEHBP because of the cost."

OPM said employee premiums for other large, employer-sponsored plans are projected to rise between 8.9 percent and 10.5 percent.

FEHBP, the nation's largest employer-sponsored health insurance program, covers about 8 million people, including 2.2 million active employees, 1.9 million retirees, and their spouses and dependents.

More information about FEHBP can be found at www.opm.gov.

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