The holiday season also means Open Season for federal workers, retirees and their families.

This open season does not refer to the potshots critics often aim at the workforce. It is the time when federal employees can pick health insurance coverage.

They have until Dec. 8 to change their  health, dental and vision insurance and flexible spending accounts. Next year, the 8.2 million people covered by the  Federal Employees Health Benefits (FEHB) Program will see their average premium rates increase by about 3.8 percent, while average Federal Employees Dental and Vision Insurance Program (FEDVIP) increases will be 1.7 percent for dental coverage and1.5 percent for vision benefits.

Feds and their families always have lots of questions during Open Season, so we asked FEHB guru Walton Francis for help in sorting through some of them. Francis is chief author of Checkbook’s annual “Guide to Health Plans for Federal Employees & Annuitants.”

Many people would rather not think about their health insurance plans, but if they don’t  they might miss an opportunity to save money. They all “have a stake in whether or not they are in the right health plan next year,” Francis said.

Many people think their current plan is okay and stay in it “without even thinking about whether there is a better deal,” he added. If you are in that group, you could be “wasting a lot of money on higher premiums than you need to pay.”

Checkbook estimates about half the people in FEHB could save about $2,000 a year in lower premiums and out-of-pocket costs.

Francis suggested that employees and retirees check the benefit summaries, which can be found online, for different plans. Also, they should find out what plans their doctors accept. They also can ask coworkers about other plans.  OPM and Checkbook provide valuable online information about the various health insurance coverages.

“There are things people can do,” Francis said, “without doing a whole lot of work.”

Read more in the Federal Diary online Tuesday evening and in Wednesday’s print editions of The Washington Post.  Also, join Walt Francis during an online chat at noon Monday with Washington Post journalists at