2021 FEHB Program Changes
For this year and last year together, there are four major changes. First, OPM approved the addition of 18 new plan options in 2020. Seven of those plans are available in the DC metro area, either as local or national plans. Our ratings show that some of those plans are very good values. Second, OPM negotiated with GEHA to give that carrier the important role of being the nation-wide Indemnity Benefit Plan as laid out in the FEHB statute. Two of the new offerings last year are the GEHA indemnity plans: Elevate and Elevate Plus. Third, OPM has allowed UnitedHealthcare to offer large Part B premium rebates for enrollees willing to join one of its FEHB plans along with one of its Medicare Advantage plans. This creates major premium savings for enrollees. Fourth, the COVID crisis has brought about major changes in FEHB, Medicare, and other health insurance to provide Telehealth services to enrollees. There are two broad categories: telehealth appointments with your own doctors in place of physical appointments, and advice from a panel of doctors chosen to deal with many circumstances online. Quite apart from protecting against the virus, these meetings offer major conveniences in many circumstances, such as when physical travel to your physician is inconvenient or impossible. Some of these reforms are COVID-specific, but it is likely that they will persist and become a new tool for medical service.
Finally, OPM has asked plans to adopt cost-saving coordination with Medicare, a reform that saves money for the program because Medicare usually pays first, which reduces FEHB premiums, and also offers savings for annuitants because their out-of-pocket costs are reduced. Most national plans already have such wraparound benefits. Dozens of local plans have now added them. Most annuitants now can enroll in a wide range of all plan types—PPO, HDHP, CDHP, and HMO—that provide these savings. OPM now also allows plans to reimburse enrollees for part of the cost of Medicare Part B premiums, and use of this technique is growing as shown by the UnitedHealthcare plans that reimburse Part B premium costs if annuitants with Parts A and B join their local Medicare Advantage plan while simultaneously retaining their FEHB enrollment. Other plans are using other techniques to encourage Part B enrollment, and Blue Cross Basic and other plans now reimburse some of the Part B premium costs.