Over the past two weeks, we’ve focused on the story of Bob, a recent retiree. We’ve gone over his pre-retirement experience and his journey through the processing of his retirement application. This week, we’ll look at his health insurance choices.
Bob has an ongoing dilemma when it comes to health insurance. He arguably doesn’t really need Federal Employees Health Benefits coverage or Medicare, because he is a veteran with a service-connected disability. That means all of his medical needs (service-connected and otherwise) are provided by the Veterans Health Administration, at no charge. VHA does bill private insurers (including those in FEHB) for the non-service connected care it provides.
Nevertheless, Bob enrolled in FEHB during his civilian service at the Federal Aviation Administration for a couple of reasons: in case he should need it for a future spouse, should he remarry, and in order to meet the requirement of being enrolled for the five years prior to retiring. Now that he’s retired, if he cancels his FEHB coverage, it’s a one-way ticket out. Bob isn’t eligible to suspend his FEHB, since having VA health benefits is not one of the reasons an enrollee can take this action. And he isn’t eligible for TRICARE because he isn’t retired from military service.
Since Bob is over 65, he is enrolled in Medicare Part A. But he chose not to enroll in Part B (coverage for doctors and outpatient services). This won’t put him at great risk, because FEHB doesn’t require Medicare enrollment to maintain coverage. Bob has considered dropping FEHB, but he believes it’s possible Congress may not provide enough funding in future years for the VA to care for all veterans. Veterans who are in one of the lower priority groups could conceivably lose health care benefits in the future.
Bob could enroll in Part B later in a future general enrollment period. These are held each year from Jan. 1 to March 31, with coverage effective July 1. But he might be subject to a late enrollment penalty for every 12-month period in which he could have been enrolled but chose not to. Currently, Bob has the opportunity to participate in a Part B special enrollment period,during which he can enroll without penalty. It will end eight months after his retirement last December.
Here’s Bob on his insurance decisions:
I enrolled in FEHB with the GEHA Standard Option FEHB plan when I onboarded in 2012, but switched to the GEHA High Deductible Health Plan about four years ago. My current premium is $136.95 per month. The HDHP includes a Health Reimbursement Arrangement, since I am not eligible to have a Health Savings Account. Having other health insurance, such as Medicare, disqualifies members from using the HSA, so GEHA establishes an HRA that does not earn interest and is not portable if I switch to another plan. But it does provide $900 annually to spend on co-pays for qualified medical expenses, as defined by the IRS.
The way I see it, having this extra $900 a year benefit effectively reduces my monthly premium. The way it works is when the VA sends the bill for my care to GEHA, GEHA pays the amount that would be covered by the plan. The remainder is covered by the VA, leaving me with $0 out of pocket expense for my care. I don’t have to worry about meeting the deductible or paying copayments since the VA covers my medical expenses.
Upon reaching my 65th birthday, I enrolled in Medicare Part A, since there is no premium for this coverage that helps cover the cost of in-patient hospitalization. Post-retirement, I am continuing my FEHB plan with GEHA but not Medicare Part B. Still, I question whether I really need it, when all of my medical care is free at the VHA. Veterans make up 30 percent of the federal workforce. And some of those veterans, like me, have service-connected disabilities and access to free medical care through the VHA. I also know retired veterans who thought that TRICARE for Life was free, until I told them that they had to enroll in Medicare Part B as well. With very few exceptions, all of my VHA visits are non-service-connected.
Bob’s Bottom Line
Bob’s top piece of retirement planning advice is not to be afraid to ask questions. He told me the people he spoke with at various federal agencies actually seemed to enjoy helping with whatever questions he had. Keep in mind that Bob communicates very clearly and takes his time. Customer service is a two-way street.
Of course, when it comes to retirement preparation, everyone needs to run the numbers. Make some rough financial projections, so you have a general idea of your income and expenses in retirement.
Bob has about half of his retirement income coming from his Social Security benefit, a little less than 20% from his federal retirement benefit, about 30% from a private sector pension that does not receive a cost of living adjustment, and roughly 3% coming from the VA. He doesn’t need to withdraw from his investments yet.
Overall, Bob is in very solid financial shape, due to his foresight, patience and planning.
SALISBURY – The Keep Kids Fed Act worked its way through Congress with bipartisan support and was signed into law, but the impact of the bill signed by President Joe Biden last month will not feed any more students in Rowan-Salisbury Schools for free.
RSS has 10 schools that qualify for free meals for all students and the district has adopted universal free breakfast as well, but the federal waivers that allowed every student in the district to eat free have lapsed and there is no indication that policy will be coming back.
“It is limited,” RSS Nutrition Director Lisa Altmann said, noting some states are looking for the money to continue free meals in their public schools.
When asked if the law would extend meals to any more kids in the district than pre-pandemic, Altmann gave a resounding “no.” She has advocated for universal meals as part of a child’s basic education.
“It’s disheartening,” Altmann said. “I was really hoping that in the 11th hour they would come through and continue to give all students universal meals. I just think it’s the right thing to do for the entire country, actually. They can’t learn if they can’t think. They can’t think if they’re hungry.”
Altmann said she expects to see a decrease in meal participation with the universal program gone and the situation is not ideal.
The Post previously reported schools would most likely be forced to return to paid meals after universal meal waivers were left out of a spending bill in March.
The June law does come with some advantages for the nutrition department. Reimbursement rates for meals and snacks will be increased by 10 cents for the 2022-2023 school year. Altmann said the increase will help nutrition departments stay in the black and without the increase there could be nationwide squeeze on nutrition department finances.
The district will also get to keep flexibility with meal patterns. Both those provisions from the bill are related to pandemic problems that are sticking around: rising costs and supply chain issues. Nutrition Budget Specialist Meredith Honeycutt said the department has not received reimbursement rates for the coming school year yet, but it received rates on July 19 last year.
The district can adjust meal times as well, but otherwise school nutrition is back to business as usual after more than two years.
But families have relied on free meals from when schools were initially ordered to close in March of 2020 and through most of the pandemic. Because those waivers have lapsed, RSS is required to get back to business as usual, meaning students will have to apply for free or reduced cost meals if they do not attend one of those 10 schools, and they will have to pay otherwise.
The meal application is already active on the district’s website at https://www.rssed.org/about/departments/operations/school-nutrition. All students at these schools get free meals regardless: Overton Elementary, North Rowan Elementary, Koontz Elementary, Hurley Elementary, Hanford-Dole Elementary, Knox Middle, Landis Elementary, North Rowan Middle, Isenberg Elementary, Henderson Independent.
HUNGER and nutrition should become non-negotiables under the Marcos administration, according to local economists.
With the majority of Filipinos already not being able to afford healthy diets, the recent spike in inflation caused by more expensive food items would require the national government to introduce interventions.
One intervention, Ateneo Eagle Watch Senior Fellow Leonardo A. Lanzona Jr. told the BusinessMirror, is for the government to provide food subsidies instead of cash subsidies. This will ensure that families do not grow hungry and that the food is also good for them.
“I would like to note that hunger and nutrition are non-negotiables. There seems to be a general trend in this and the previous administration to focus on the economy and basically assume that income will be distributed automatically,” Lanzona said in an e-mail over the weekend.
“It is important to prioritize health, nutrition and education because downgrading their values in this post-pandemic period will make it difficult to return to its previous state,” he added.
Giving food subsidies, Lanzona said, would also spur agriculture production. This can be part of a comprehensive agriculture program where farmers are encouraged to plant nutritious food varieties to increase access to them.
“The idea is that focusing on the economy is really a one-way street. It is more viable to work on human capital now and determine how we bring it to a level that can restore growth,” Lanzona said.
In a separate e-mail, Ateneo de Manila University Associate Professor Geoffrey M. Ducanes told the BusinessMirror that providing food subsidies for poor Filipinos will prevent them from falling deeper into poverty or make them go hungry.
“This is especially important for children of poor households who might become malnourished and whose physical and mental development can be affected,” Ducanes said.
He explained that the spike in inflation and the depreciation of the peso are worrisome when it comes to food prices.
Ducanes said these could increase the price of imported food that Filipinos consume on a daily basis. This includes “imported fruits and vegetables, meat, canned goods, and even sweets.”
The impact of the depreciation of the peso, Ducanes said, would have lingering effects on inflation. This will have a significant impact on the ability of Filipinos to afford commodities, particularly food.
The increase in inflation hurts the poor more, especially if the source of the increase is in food. The Philippine Statistics Authority (PSA) said food alone has a weight of 34.8 percent in the Consumer Price Index (CPI) for all households and as much as 55 percent for the bottom 30 percent.
“The effect of the peso depreciation is of course not limited to inflation, it could also positively affect our exports as they become less expensive in the world market. In assessing the effects of a peso depreciation, this should also be given weight,” Ducanes said.
“Given the further depreciation of the peso in July 2022, we would expect an even higher cost for the same basket this month should the peso depreciation continue to hold,” he also said. In the long term, Ducanes said, the country should strive to increase domestic agricultural productivity. This can be addressed by dealing with the problems in the agricultural sector.
Ducanes cited a need for greater investment in agricultural infrastructure, equipment, and research and development.
He also stressed that the Philippines should keep trade open in order to allow Filipinos to have access to affordable food and non-food items. This allows a steady supply of items that are not supplied domestically and options to source items elsewhere that may be considered cheaper.