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Open season during a pandemic: Brace for impact!

Many if not most people are indifferent, at best, when it comes to shopping for a new health plan. Those of us lucky enough to have an employer or union-backed health plan have a year-end open season when they are supposed to update their coverage. Most stay in the same plan year-after-year, especially if, like active and retired feds, they have a bewildering array of plans and options.

But two years into a pandemic, with a new potentially deadlier variant spreading fast, lots of people are paying lots more attention to their heath coverage. Or should be.

The open season for federal workers, retirees and survivors ends Dec. 13. Many could save thousands of dollars in premiums next year by considering a similar, sometimes superior, plan’s standard or basic options. Or enrolling in a high deductible plan where, with good health and a little luck, they can amass savings/investment accounts of $50,000 or more. Some Medicare Advantage plans can also save big bucks. And many people are happy with the health savings accounts.


You have to shop around. If you’ve been in the same plan for 3-to-5 years, it may not be your best buy.

People buy health insurance for a variety of reasons. Low premiums or copayments. Their doctor is in the network. They are looking for prescription or dental coverage. Maybe they prefer a one-stop HMO operation. Whatever the reason.

Most do nothing and never even consider changing health plans.

But the primary reason people should buy health insurance is its catastrophic coverage. The amount you will have to shell out before the plan covers the rest of your costs. Costs from an accident or hospitalization. Medical bills are a major reason people go into bankruptcy. In times of a global epidemic, that is overridingly important.

So what do you do? You check the Office of Personnel Management’s excellent online guide. Many also like Consumer’s Checkbook Guide to Health Plans, which is so popular that many federal agencies (and at least one union) have joined it for their employees and members.

Checkbook will help you locate the best plans for you in your geographic area. And it gives great priority to the cost-to-you-limits of each plan in the event you have massively expensive medical bills next year. For a single person with a self-only plan, that out-of-pocket limit ranges from $4,000 to just over $10,000. For a family of three, the limit to you ranges from $8,400 to more than $19,000. Big difference.

Since the open season started, we’ve had a series of columns and Your Turn shows featuring Checkbook editor Walt Francis. The columns and shows are archived so you can read and/or listen anytime. Walt will be my guest again this Wednesday at 10 a.m. If you have questions for him about anything related to your health/family situation, send them to me at and I’ll ask him on air.

Nearly Useless Factoid

By Alazar Moges

There is red or pink colored snow that falls in certain icy areas, commonly refered to as watermelon snow, caused by a species of ice-loving algae known as Chlamydomonas nivalis. It even smells sweet and fruit-like, but experts say it is not wise to eat it because while not dangerous in small amounts, it is considered a laxative that can cause digestive issues.

Source: Ocean Conservancy 

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