The full chat transcript is available at wapo.st/fehbchat. Open Season closes Dec. 8.
Here is a sample from the Q&A to get you started.
Q: Do you have any recommendations for retired Feds as they approach 65 and contemplate Medicare coverage as a supplement to their FEHB plan?
Francis: In general, the pluses of Medicare Part B (which becomes primary, not a supplement) outweigh its $1,250-a-year cost, particularly because there are new wraparound benefits this year. The key, as always, is to choose your FEHBP plan to minimize the cost of paying two premiums.
Q: I am appalled at my plan’s coverage for mental health benefits. My sons both have ADHD, and that requires a lot of appointments with therapists and psychiatrists. The majority of good mental health professionals recommended to me refuse to participate in plans because the repayment is so low, and my plan won’t reimburse me for out-of-network visits. I use my FSA (flexible spending account) but would prefer better coverage. Is there a plan that is best for mental health coverage? Thanks!
Francis: All plans now have to cover mental health the same as physical health, but out-of-network benefits are always much lower than in-network. Your solution is to find a plan with your providers in-network, or look for new providers who are in-network. Ask them which plans they take.
Q: Many people seem to let the Open Season pass by because they are basically satisfied with their plan, and maybe they glance at the new premium rate and they decide they can live with it. If someone is in that position, what is the bare minimum they should be doing in the open season?
Francis: If people don’t do a little more homework, they are making a BIG mistake. To be sure, looking at health insurance and comparing plans is often viewed like going to the dentist for a root canal. But a few things are very simple. First, without fail, consider your and your family’s health status and consider that the match between the plan’s benefits and what you need may no longer be so good. Second, download the plan brochure and look at the page on how benefits change for next year. You may see good news or bad news but you need to know. Third, check to make sure that any really important doctors are still in your plan network next year, and while you are at it, find out what other networks they are in (easy by using our doctor directory or by calling the doctor’s office). Fourth, consider giving yourself a $1,000 or $2,000 increase in take-home pay and reduced spending by looking at just one or two other plans with lower premiums and equal or better benefits.