Bipartisan Spending Deal Includes Average 3.1% Pay Raise for Federal Workers in 2020

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Congressional negotiators agreed to use language advocated by Democrats to Provide an across-the-board 2.6% Pay increase to Federal Civilian Employees, along with an average 0.5% boost in Locality Pay.

Congress is set to provide federal civilian employees with an average pay raise of 3.1% next year as part of a spending deal that must pass before Friday’s deadline to avert a government shutdown.

According to a House Democratic aide, language in the spending legislation, which lawmakers still were finalizing Monday afternoon, would provide feds with a 2.6% across-the-board raise, along with an average 0.5% increase in locality pay.

The provision mirrors language passed by the Democrat-controlled House as part of its fiscal 2020 Financial Services and General Government appropriations bill earlier this year. The Senate’s version of the bill contained no language on employee compensation, effectively endorsing President Trump’s plan to provide federal workers with a 2.6% across-the-board raise but no increase in locality pay.

The agreement also marks the return of pay parity, as members of the military are also slated to receive an average 3.1% pay raise. Last year, although service members received a 2.6% pay increase, civilian feds only saw a 1.9% raise, as part of a deal to end the 35-day partial government shutdown.

The House and Senate must both vote to approve the spending deal, which will be split into two bills, by Friday, in order to avoid another government shutdown.

TSP to Change COLA Calculations and More

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The agency responsible for administering the federal government’s 401(k)-style retirement savings program announced Tuesday that it plans to change how it calculates annual cost of living adjustments associated with some of its offerings for retirees.

When Thrift Savings Plan participants take a post-separation withdrawal, they have the option to receive the money over time in the form of an annuity with an increasing payment option, which is based on an annual cost-of-living adjustment calculation. Currently, these annual adjustments are tied to inflation, as measured by the annual change in the consumer price index, with a cap of 3% per year.

Since the TSP contracts out annuity services to a vendor, that vendor charges fees based on an annual increase of 3% per year, even when the actual annual adjustment is less than that.

According to a proposed rule published Tuesday in the Federal Register, the TSP would cease tying annual cost of living increases to inflation, and instead provide an annual fixed increase of 2% per year. Officials noted that the Federal Open Market Committee has stated its aim is to keep inflation at that rate each year “over the medium term,” and that the average annual rate of inflation over the last 20 years has been 1.95%.

The change, according to the TSP, would allow participants who take an annuity to receive, on average, a 10% to 15% higher initial monthly payment, due to reduced fees to the annuity vendor.

“Although this increase comes at the expense of a smaller amount of inflation protection (i.e., protection only up to 2% per year as opposed to 3%), using a fixed rate makes it less likely that participants will pay for more inflation protection than they need,” the TSP wrote.

And with a fixed COLA adjustment each year, participants will have more certainty regarding how much money they will receive on a monthly and yearly basis.

In the wake of the surprise news that President Trump will grant federal employees the day off on Christmas Eve next week, the Office of Personnel Management has issued guidance clarifying how that decision will affect federal workers’ pay and benefits.

On the pay front, full-time federal employees will receive their usual basic pay despite federal agencies being closed. And those who had been scheduled to take leave will not be charged for the day off. But if an employee has scheduled “use or lose” annual leave and cannot reschedule it before the end of the leave year, which falls on Jan. 4 for most workers, it will not be refunded to their leave bank.

The holiday’s impact on part-time and alternative work schedule workers varies, but OPM issued a fact sheet to go over a variety of possible scenarios

Last Chance for Open Season for 2020

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Hopefully by now, you’ve done your research and narrowed your options for your 2020 Federal Employee’s Health Benefits Program plan and possibly dental and vision coverage. The end of open season is only a few days away (midnight EST on Monday, Dec. 9).

Many people will decide to stay with the same plan they have this year and keep the same allotments in their flexible spending accounts. According to the Office of Personnel Management, if you do nothing, here’s what will happen in 2020:

If you want to make a change, then the procedure depends on your agency or retirement system. Current employees can use one of various automated systems, depending on where they work. If you’re using a paper form, then submit form SF 2809 to your benefits specialist in human resources.

If you’re retired and your benefits are administered by OPM, then you can change your health benefit plan by using OPM’s Open Season Online system, calling 800-332-9798, or mailing OPM Form 2809 to: Office of Personnel Management, Open Season Processing Center, P.O. Box 5000, Lawrence, KS 66046-0500.

If You’re Retiring

Your agency needs to document your health insurance coverage to continue your coverage into retirement. If your agency is unable to provide documentation of an employee’s entire FEHBP coverage history, then OPM must have proof of coverage during the five years of service immediately prior to retirement—or if less than five years, during all service in which you were eligible for FEHBP.

Acceptable proof of coverage includes:

  • SF 2809 (Health Benefits Election Form) or other enrollment forms
  • SF 2810 (Notice of Change in Health Benefits Enrollment)
  • History reports from online enrollments that show both the old plan and new plan, and the effective dates for each change
  • Copies of screen shots or other documentation from online enrollments that show both the old plan and new plan, and the effective date for each change
  • Evidence of coverage as a family member under another’s FEHBP enrollment
  • Evidence of TRICARE/CHAMPUS enrollment (including evidence of coverage as a family member)
  • A signed memorandum from the agency detailing the continuous coverage of the employee to prove they meet the five-year requirement

Changes made by employees who are retiring before the first pay period of the new year may not take effect on Jan. 1, 2020, but OPM will process them as quickly as possible and coverage will be retroactive to Jan. 1. In the meantime, use your current coverage until the new coverage is in place. Your SF 2809 enrollment form should be included with your retirement package, not processed by your agency.

If You’re Retiring at Age 65 or Older

Now that you are retiring and are over age 65, you can go get Medicare Option B.  Here you can decide to stay with your health plan OR look at an alternative such as a Medicare Supplement.  Here is an example of Mary and her husband John:

Mary is retiring and is 66 and John her husband is 67 and both have been on her health plan, now that she is retiring and can get Medicare Part B her Health plan was going to be $392 per month plus $144.60 each (01/01/2020 Rate increased from $135.50 2019) for a total of $681.20.  But Excellent coverage with Zero out of pocket expenses, except co-pays on prescription drugs.

Now an alternative plan would be using a Medicare Supplement.  Based on Mary and John’s ages I recommended Plan G which comes similar coverage, but would have to cover the $198 deductible with Plan G.  Cost for Mary was $100.78 and John $107.22 plus Medicare Part B premiums for a total of $497.20 per month.  Now they would also have to go get Medicare Part D for Prescription Drugs, but that plan usually is somewhere between $19-$34.95 per month depending on medications being used.  So for everything bundled together with Part D with average cost of $24.95 the total would be $547.10 vs $681.20 for a first year savings of $134.10 per month or around $1600 per year.

Ask your Retirement specialist when you Contact Us today to see what rates you would have.

Should Feds Prepare for Another Government Shutdown

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We’re not even 12 months removed from the most recent government shutdown and already there are fears that another shutdown is possible later this month. The latest continuing resolution Congress passed to sustain government operations while lawmakers negotiate a budget deal runs out on Dec. 20, and while most lawmakers seem to believe an agreement is within reach, it is not certain that President Trump would approve it. That possibility should get every federal employee’s attention.

LifeCents survey data suggests that many of the 800,000 workers impacted by the previous shutdown suffered significant hardships: 22% percent of respondents claimed to have missed a significant payment, while 24% reported that the shutdown took a physical and emotional toll.

One career government employee told us: “The long shutdown was the fifth time I have experienced being shut out from my job, with the associated worries of how long it will last, when will we get back pay, and how long will my emergency fund last.” After more than 30 years of federal service, he finally decided to leave his job at the IRS as a direct result of the shutdown.

While this employee had an emergency fund that could sustain him until the government reopened, many people do not. Studies show that 78% of American citizens live paycheck to paycheck, while 40% do not have enough in savings to cover a $400 emergency. For such individuals, the prospect of missing one or more paychecks could be catastrophic.

Where to Begin

Agencies can help protect employees from potential financial hardship by encouraging workers to establish emergency savings funds, and then help them acquire the knowledge and build the habits to regularly contribute to that fund.

Many will find the prospect of building a savings account with enough money to cover three to six months of living expenses daunting, so employers should advise people to start small. A base amount of a few hundred dollars can still cover a small emergency and may even be enough to see employees through an abbreviated shutdown. Maintaining a small emergency fund can also limit the amount of debt someone takes on when they’re not receiving an income. Instead of using credit cards to cover expenses, employees can rely on their emergency funds, allowing them to avoid accruing new debt.

There are programs available to educate government employees on savings strategies. For example, the Office of Personnel Management provides retirement and financial literacy training that can help employees better manage their finances.

Inspiration From the Private Sector

Although the public sector is more limited than the private sector in its ability to incentivize employees, there are aspects of some private sector savings programs that government agencies may wish to consider emulating.

For instance, many companies have implemented “helping hands” or “hardship” funds. Employees contribute a small amount of money on a regular basis into a specialized savings account as a gesture of goodwill to their colleagues. These funds accumulate and can be disbursed in case of an emergency—such as a government shutdown.

Some companies have established community savings programs that reward or recognize participants when they achieve specific goals. For example, an organization may set a savings goal of $400 per person and reward employees with a celebratory event once everyone hits that goal. Initiatives like this show that a small incentive tied to a specific goal can help people develop long-term savings habits.

Benefits of Financial Security 

Shutdowns sow tremendous confusion and uncertainty among employees. By helping employees understand the importance of creating emergency funds, managers can proactively provide workers with the underpinnings of a financial safety net that may help soften the blow.

Investing in employees’ financial literacy and wellness can also help improve job satisfaction and reduce attrition. A 2019 PwC survey found that employees value having a financial wellness benefit and access to unbiased counselors. Organizations that provide such benefits are more likely to be seen as good places to work.

While managers cannot control shutdowns, they can help employees understand what tools, benefits, programs, and resources they have at their disposal to protect themselves during economic hardship

Getting Close to Retirement

Is your retirement date just around the corner and you have Questions?  We specialize in helping you plan, prepare and execute your retirement plan with the Full Assistance of My Federal Retirement Help.  Just contact us today

It’s that simple, you can easily schedule your Free Retirement Review with a day/time that will work for you the best, but our calendars do fill up quickly, so schedule your review today.

 

 

health premiums

Feds and Annuitants Now Have a New Long Term Care Option

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The Office of Personnel Management has officially launched, FLTCIP 3.0, a new plan and rate structure under the Federal Long Term Care Insurance Program.

FLTCIP 3.0 is a traditional long term care insurance plan with an emphasis on stay-at-home care and home care provided by health professionals as well as family and friends. The highlight of the new plan is a bonus “premium stabilization” feature.

Under the premium stabilization feature, there is an adjustable amount that is calculated as a percentage of premiums paid, which is designed to reduce the potential need for future premium increases.

“Under certain conditions, the amount may be used to offset an enrollee’s future premium payments or provide a refund of premium death benefit,” according to OPM.

The new benefit is available to federal and U.S. Postal Service employees and annuitants, active and retired members of the uniformed services, and qualified relatives who apply for coverage on or after October 21, 2019.

Learn more here.

Federal Retirees Will Get 1.6% COLA in 2020

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Retired federal workers will receive a cost of living adjustment of 1.6% to their defined benefit pensions next year, according to an announcement from the Social Security Administration.
The increase, which also applies to recipients of Social Security benefits, is a downgrade from the 2.8% increase some federal retirees received in 2019, and the 2% boost they saw in 2018.

The annual COLA is based on the percentage increase in the average Consumer Price Index for Urban Wage Earners and Clerical Workers (CPI-W) for the third quarter of the current year over the average CPI-W for the third quarter of the previous year in which a COLA became effective.

Unlike last year, when Civil Service Retirement System participants received the full 2.8% COLA while Federal Employees Retirement System enrollees only received a 2% increase, the 1.6% increase applies to participants in both FERS and CSRS.

That’s because FERS retirees only receive the full COLA if the difference in the CPI-W is 2% or less; if the difference is between 2% and 3%, they receive a 2% increase; and if the change is 3% or higher, FERS participants receive 1 percentage point less than the full increase.

Late last year, Rep. Gerry Connolly, D-Va., introduced the Equal COLA Act, a bill that would ensure FERS and CSRS retirees received the same cost of living adjustment each year. Connolly reintroduced the bill (H.R. 1254) last February, although it has yet to receive a hearing.

The COLAs will take effect next January.  If you are thinking about Retirement and want a Free Retirement Review or need any assistance, we can help you.  Please Contact Us to request your free consultation.

2020 Open Season Coming Soon – Time to Start Thinking About it.

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Among the signs that fall is upon us is that health insurance open season looms in the not-too-distant future. The 2020 open season will run from Nov. 11 to Dec. 9, 2019. It makes sense to do some homework before the start of open season because, as usual, you’ll have a lot of options.

The 279 health plans available in the Federal Employees Health Benefits Program include:

  • 18 fee for service plans open to all
  • 4 fee for service plans with availability limited to certain groups
  • 257 HMO plans
  • 19 high deductible health plans
  • 28 consumer driven health plans

Plan brochures and plan comparison tools will be available in early November, before the start of open season. The 2020 rates for all FEHBP plans are available now.

There’s a new indemnity benefit plan called GEHA Elevate that will fill a spot that has been open for 30 years in FEHBP. Indemnity plans allow you to visit almost any doctor or hospital you like. The insurance company then pays a set portion of your total charges.

The lines between preferred provider organization plans and health maintenance organization plan continue to blur.  Today, you may find that a traditional fee for service plan such as Blue Cross/Blue Shield Basic Option requires the use of network providers (similar to an HMO) for the plan to provide coverage.

Plans such as Aetna Direct, which is classified as an HMO, work well for retirees nationwide who are enrolled in Medicare Parts A & B. It does not require a referral to see a specialist and coverage is available outside of the network providers.

Laurie Bodenheimer, acting director of health care and insurance at OPM, said this week that only 5% to 6% of federal enrollees change plans during open season, adding that she wished the percentage was higher. She admitted that switching can be a daunting task, and people enrolled in plans currently accepted by their doctors may be reluctant to change. Others are put off by the confusing jargon in the health insurance world.

Two health plans will no longer participate in FEHBP in 2020: MVP Health Care, which covers 3,200 employees and more than 4,000 retirees in New York; and Highmark Choice Co. (also known as Keystone Health Plan West), which  covers 718 employees and 323 retirees in Pennsylvania. Enrollees in these plans will have to select a new plan during open season. Otherwise, they will be automatically enrolled in the lowest-cost nationwide plan option, which for 2020 is GEHA Elevate.

Blue Cross/Blue Shield’s standard option remains the most popular FEHBP plan with retirees, with more than 930,000 retiree enrollments as of March 2018. But it’s also one of the most expensive. Blue Cross/Blue Shield’s basic option was most popular among current employees, with 807,000 enrollments.

Some plans will significantly increase premiums in most areas in 2020. They include:

  • Rural Carrier Benefit Plan
  • Aetna HealthFund Value Plan
  • Aetna HealthFund High Deductible Health Plan
  • Aetna HealthFund Consumer Driven Health Plan (in some areas)
  • Aetna Open Access High Option Plan
  • Health Net of California High and Standard Option Plans (in some areas)
  • Humana Health Plan Basic, Standard and High Option Plans
  • Humana CoverageFirst Value and Consumer Driven Health Plans
  • Humana Medical Plan High and Standard Option Plans
  • Humana Employers Health Plan of Georgia Basic, Standard, and High Option Plans
  • District of Columbia M.D. IPA
  • Hawaii Aetna HealthFund Value Plan

Some plans will be reducing premiums in 2020:

  • APWU High Option
  • GEHA High Option
  • MHBP Standard and Value Options
  • SAMBA High and Standard Options
  • Aetna HealthFund Consumer Driven Plan (in some areas)
  • United Healthcare Insurance Company High Deductible Health Plan
  • Health Net of California Basic Plan
  • Aetna Open Access Basic and High Option Plans (in some areas)

As open season nears, we’ll look in more depth at how you can assess your options. If you are close to retiring and need some assistance, we can help guide and direct you as well.

For example, when John and Liz were retiring and they saw the prices of health insurance, it was better for them to let the Federal Health plan go and they chose Medicare and Medicare Supplement which saved them about $238 per month, and still had Zero out of pocket, no more copays.  If you would like your Free Retirement Review or just have simple questions, please Contact Us now for assistance.