Today, the U.S. Office of Personnel Management (OPM) briefed NTEU on the premium rate increases in the Federal Employees Health Benefits Program (FEHBP) for 2019 that covers approximately 8.3 million federal employees, retirees, and eligible family members. In plan year 2019, the FEHBP will consist of 265 health plans government-wide. Overall, premium increases for FEHBP plans in 2019 will average 1.3%; 1.2% for the government and 1.5% for enrollees. Rate increases for the 2 million participants in the Federal Employees Dental and Vision Insurance Program will be 1.2% for dental coverage, and vision benefit premiums, paid by approximately 1.4 million individuals, will be 2.8%.
The upcoming Open Season, where federal employees can make changes to their health, dental, and vision insurance for 2019, and enroll in flexible spending accounts will be held November 12 – December 10, 2018. Individual plan brochures, with additional resources and OPM’s plan comparison tool, will also be made available on the OPM web site in early November prior to the official start of Open Season.
According to OPM, premiums for enrollees in the largest FEHBP plan, Blue Cross/Blue Shield (BCBS) Standard option will decrease $0.93 per biweekly pay period for individuals who choose self-only coverage. Those enrolled in the BCBS Self Plus One coverage option will see a decrease of $1.27 per biweekly pay period, while the BCBS Standard Self and Family enrollee decrease will be $3.74 per biweekly pay period.
Of note, while the popular BCBS Standard health plan will see a slight decrease in premiums, and the overall FEHBP program premium percentage increases are modest for 2019, each plan has its own premium rate, so there are FEHBP plans that will experience large premium percentage and dollar increases for 2019.
NTEU is well aware that quality health insurance remains exceeding important to our members and their families, particularly at a time when federal employee benefit programs in general have come under attack from either the administration or some in Congress. And, against the backdrop of small pay raises in recent years that have failed to keep up with inflation, coping with health insurance premiums, and the ever-rising increases in out-of-pocket expenses such as increased deductibles, copays, and other co-insurance, remains challenging. And, NTEU will remain vigilant should the administration or Congress move to dismantle the FEHBP program.
In recent weeks, Congress has acted to move prescription-drug-related pharmacy benefit manager (PBM) legislation that would provide consumers with more transparency, and at times, cheaper options at the pharmacy counter. PBMs operate as middlemen to negotiate prescription drug prices with drug companies and pharmacies on behalf of individual FEHBP plans, though in recent years there has been little evidence of this being an effective system to reduce costs for enrollees. At today’s briefing, NTEU asked OPM if, and when, these changes would be extended to FEHBP plans given that they would provide some opportunity for minimal savings for federal employees. OPM responded that they would follow-up and review the legislation and its impact on FEHBP plans.
I also want to alert you that starting for calendar year 2019, OPM is rolling out a new nation-wide BCBS Plan, marketed as “FEP Blue Focus.” While OPM refused to provide any details in today’s briefing, we will provide you with information about this new health plan once it becomes available as it may well be substantially different than other current health plans.