Good news for information-starved retirees sweating the June 30 deadline for the Federal Employees Group Life Insurance open season:

Most retirees who are 70 or older have no choices to make. For them, the open season is a nonevent. Individuals who retired after age 65 are the exception.

For retirees eligible to change their Option B (additional) coverage, the only change available to them, the deadline is Oct. 24. The June 30 deadline applies only to active-duty workers.

Active-duty federal workers have gotten or will get lots of FEGLI facts, figures and advice at the office. But for many retirees who are isolated from their old workplaces, the open season is confusing.

The open season was triggered by changes Congress made in the life insurance program last year and by changes in premiums -- mostly reductions -- for many options.

But premiums are increasing as much as 21 percent for retirees who retain all or 50 percent of their basic coverage (an amount equal to a worker's annual salary at the time of retirement) after age 65. That's a jolt, but it is the first increase in those premiums in 18 years. Premiums actually dropped in 1987.

There are two things retirees should remember when dealing with benefit changes during the life insurance open enrollment period.

M ost retirees who are older than 70 cannot make any changes in their Option B coverage, which provides one to five times annual salary. Currently, that coverage begins to decline at age 65 for retirees, dropping at the rate of 2 percent a month until it is gone. Active-duty workers older than 65 don't suffer any decrease in coverage until they retire, when it starts decreasing 2 percent a month.

During the open season, the Office of Personnel Management says, retirees who have Option B insurance can freeze coverage at its value as of April 24. OPM says retirees "must pay premiums to keep the frozen face value. If you make this election, premiums will be due at the rate of $1.517 per $1,000 of coverage, beginning April 1, 1999. Premiums may increase in the future. These rates are yet to be determined."

The National Association of Retired Federal Employees is advising members to expect a premium increase in the future for Option B coverage. "This fact should be taken into account when deciding whether to freeze Option B coverage," NARFE says.

Retirees 65 and older who decide to freeze Option B coverage now can cancel it later. OPM says that if the freeze is canceled, "the amount of coverage will be adjusted to the reduced amount it would have been if you had never made" the decision to freeze it. Those who cancel won't get a refund of premiums paid to freeze coverage.

Retirees who are younger than 65 can choose to prevent the reduction of Option B coverage. Otherwise, once they reach 65, coverage will decline at the rate of 2 percent a month until it is gone. And OPM will stop withholding premiums for Option B beginning with the month after the retiree's 65th birthday.

Under-65 retirees who choose no reduction in Option B will keep the current face value indefinitely unless they cancel it at a later date or change the amount of coverage. "If you make this election," OPM says, "premiums will continue beyond your 65th birthday, and your coverage will remain the same."

OPM says that before retirees turn 65, the office will contact them. "At that time, you will have the option of electing a reduction of part or all of your coverage."

Bottom line: The open season is a nonevent for most retirees who are 70 or older. And for those who have decisions to make, the deadline, Oct. 24, is a relatively long way off.


David Firestone has retired from the Food and Drug Administration after 54 years of federal service. Like many World War II veterans, he earned an advanced degree, a doctorate in chemistry, while working full time. His number-one fan, son Michael Firestone, of the Environmental Protection Agency, says his father helped develop the first method of spotting dioxins in foods and biological tissues.

OPM's Andrew P. Klugh is retiring after more than 41 years of federal service. He came up through the ranks and is now assistant director for work force information. Colleagues say he is a master at retrieving and explaining government personnel data. When he goes, he will take a lot of OPM's institutional memory with him.

Mike Causey's e-mail address is