Open Season Mayhem – 4 Must Have Insights from Benefits Expert Walt Francis

With over 200 federal health plans to choose from, it is easy to get bogged down. In fact, when it comes to Open Season, the prevailing notion is to do nothing. Feds stay with the same plan year after year, even if premiums go up and benefits change.

That’s why we reached out to Walt Francis, one of the tried and true experts in federal health benefits for new our “Guide to Open Season in Federal Government: A Step-By-Step Approach to Selecting Your Perfect Plan.” DOWNLOAD HERE

Francis is the Principal Author of “CHECKBOOK’s Guide to Health Plans for Federal Employees.” In an interview with GovLoop, he outlined his four insider secrets to getting the most out of your federal health benefits package.

  1. Before you pick your plan, get to know your own health needs. According to Francis, your first step should be a self-assessment, sitting down and saying, ‘I am thinking about having kids’ or ‘I am going to have knee surgery’ or ‘I am near retirement.’ By isolating your health needs, you can fully leverage your benefits. For example, Francis noted, “There is a little known fact that many, but not all, federal employee health plans give you a special benefit for pregnancy. You pay nothing for maternity care, before, after and during delivery. So you really want to make sure you have a good pregnancy benefit.”

  1. Talk to your doctor. One of the simpler things you can do is to choose your doctor first and then ask the doctor what plan or plans are accepted by their practice. That information narrows your choices considerably because you have just taken care of one of the biggest question (e.g. ‘Is my doctor in my plan?’). Francis said, “At that point, it may get a lot simpler because now you can look at the premiums for two or three plans and the structure of the cost sharing, and it is very likely that one of the plans will leap out at you as better than the others.”

  1. Know your age bracket. Depending on your age, you will have different health care considerations. For example, Francis noted, “There is a penalty if you don’t sign up for Medicare when you turn 65. It’s not a decision you can really postpone, but there is a loophole. You can choose to not take Medicare until or unless you need it, then sign up for a year or two or three and pay the penalty premium. But because you haven’t been paying the premium for so many years, you’ve probably got more money in the bank by a large margin. Then you will get penalized by signing up late.” We share more of Francis’ tips around special age and life status situations.

  1. Don’t be scared of the bureaucratic language. In our survey, just 30 percent of survey respondents reported that they really understand how insurance works, or know the meaning of all that strange terminology, such as co-insurance versus co-pay. “There has been a lot of research about how well consumers understand health insurance and the answer is ‘not well at all,’” said Francis. “So opening a health plan brochure is kind of like opening a book in Greek. It’s complicated and confusing and comparing any more than one plan is next to impossible.” Due to the difficulty of deciphering what feels like a foreign language, it’s a very easy thing for people to procrastinate and forget it or say, ‘I am okay where I am.’ Don’t do that,” urged Francis.

Our goal with this guide is give you confidence in making those changes. As Francis said, “Don’t be intimidated. It will save you money and heartache if you take the time to look into your benefits.”

“Guide to Open Season in Federal Government: A Step-By-Step Approach to Selecting Your Perfect Plan”



Federal Employee Defense Services, Inc. (FEDS) was founded by a former federal attorney with the express purpose to protect and educate federal employees about their professional exposure; and to offer coverage, claims administration and legal representation specifically tailored to meet those needs.

FSAFEDS is a flexible spending account where you contribute money from your salary BEFORE taxes are withheld then get reimbursed for your out-of-pocket health care and dependent care expenses. The website features several valuable resources, including a future savings calculator, videos and much more.

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