Federal workers and retirees staggering through the current health-insurance hunting season say they haven't been this angry, frustrated and confused since, well, the last health-insurance hunting season.
At the moment 9.2 million people (that is the number of federal workers, retirees and family members in the U.S. health program) are trying to sort out which is the best deal for them next year.
Most federal agencies run their own insurance offices. Although some of those offices are performing yeoman service, many federal workers report that they are getting little or no intelligent help from their agencies.
Consider the problem: Federal employes have 131 plans to choose from, and depending on the plan they choose, premium deductions from each paycheck will range from $6.42 to $62.01 next year.
The federal health programs cover about half the population of the Washington area. Employes here have about 16 plans to choose from--or a couple more if they work for the CIA, FBI, National Security Agency or the Foreign Service.
As might be expected, the plans offer a bewildering array of benefits for the money. Some provide extra services for foot care, others are big on teeth. The trick is figuring out how much you can afford to pay, and guessing what fate has in store for you and your family for 1983.
The open season enrollment period started Nov. 22 and was due to run until Dec. 10. But the Office of Personnel Management discovered a problem in some of the brochures it was sending out, and extended the open season until Dec. 23. That is little consolation to federal workers who say they are being given bad, or insufficient, information at the office, or to retirees who are getting no help at the office.
OPM's telephone lines are swamped. Some workers claim that their health-insurance offices have never officially advised them that open season is under way.
An Agriculture Department official said: "Nothing is being done at my office because of this open-season flap. Everybody is at the copying machines [duplicating hard-to-come-by brochures] or running off to personnel or the insurance office to try to find out what is going on." He said he doesn't want to crack down on his people, "because I'm as confused as they are. I need the information, too."
This is one federal program that Congress needs to take a long hard look at. Premiums jumped an average of 31 percent this year, and will go up an average 24 percent next year. New plans are being added regularly, increasing the choice and confusion for workers. And people find it hard to keep up with benefit changes.
Meanwhile, federal agencies would be doing everybody (government worker and government customer) a favor if they would get full information out to employes so they can decide which plan to pick and get back to work.