AFSA Retiree Newsletter - October 2018

In this issue you will find:

  1. Upcoming Webinar for Retiree Members
  2. Annual Foreign Service Annuitant Newsletter
  3. Threats to Retirement Benefits
  4. Open Season Is Coming
  5. Medicare Part B Premium Reimbursements?
  6. Combined Federal Campaign
  7. Upcoming Events at AFSA
  8. If You Do NOT Want a Copy of the AFSA Retiree Directory…
  9. Talking TSP
  10. FS Pipeline Primed
  11. Annual Foreign Service Annuitant Newsletter

Upcoming Webinar for Retiree Members

On Thursday, October 25 from 1:00-2:00 p.m. AFSA will host a webinar, “The View from Washington,” with AFSA President Barbara Stephenson who will outline AFSA’s current and on-going advocacy efforts at the national level and on Capitol Hill. During the webinar, Ambassador Stephenson will provide an update on the status of the funding bill and current hiring and appointments and provide a detailed look at how AFSA is continuing to advocate for restoring funding for core diplomatic capability and getting members of the Foreign Service in the field. Ambassador Stephenson will also walk through messaging AFSA has developed to remind fellow Americans – including members of Congress – that the U.S. Foreign Service is a key component of the solution set to confront challenges to America’s global leadership. We will discuss how retiree members, active and engaged in doing local outreach, can amplify these messages in their local communities and how AFSA can equip you with talking points and other resources. There will also be an opportunity for questions.

We hope you’ll join this informational and engaging conversation. Please email events@afsa.org to register. A note about the webinar format: all you will need to participate in the webinar is an internet connection and sound. On the day of the event, AFSA will send out a link to all who are registered and when it is time for the webinar to begin, you will simply need to click the link and verify your email address. You will see the presentation as a video, and you will be able to ask questions by typing in a text box.

 

Annual Foreign Service Annuitant Newsletter

Be on the lookout in mid-November for the 2019 Foreign Service Annual Annuitant Newsletter published by State Department’s Office of Retirement. State no longer mails printed copies to each of the 16,000 Foreign Service annuitants and survivors. Instead, the 28-page newsletter is posted on the internet at https://RNet.state.gov under the “What’s New?” tab. The 2018 newsletter is there now if you have not already reviewed it.

Publication each year is timed to coincide with the start of the Open Season for making changes to your Federal Employees Health Benefits plan. Open Season this year runs for November 12 to December 10. The newsletter contains the form you will need to submit if you want to change your enrollment.

But, even if you intend to stick with your current health insurance provider, please read through the newsletter which has important information about your retirement benefits. For example, it includes information on the annual Cost of Living adjustment, instructions for logging on to Annuitant Express to view your annuity statements or update your address, and an explanation of how your annuity is taxed.

The newsletter includes instructions on how to report post-retirement marriage or divorce and instructions on how your next-of-kin can apply for survivors’ benefits. It gives retirees under age 62 the form that most of them must submit next January to report their wage earnings. There is a list of key government points of contact regarding your retirement benefits. There is information about the Re-Employed Annuitant (formerly WAE) program, the Combined Federal Campaign, the FSN Emergency Relief Fund, and the Senior Living Foundation of the American Foreign Service.

 

Threats to Retirement Benefits

In late August, Office of Personnel Management Director Jeff Pon (who abruptly resigned earlier this month) conceded that cuts to federal retirement benefits were “highly unlikely to happen” this year. As previously detailed in this newsletter, those proposals included requiring employees to pay more into their pension trust funds, calculating pensions based on five years’ salary instead of three, eliminating the annuity supplement for retirees under age 62, and eliminating or reducing Cost of Living Adjustments to federal pensions.

Neither the House nor the Senate advanced those proposals, so the Administration threw in the towel for this year. What happens in 2019 and 2020 may depend on the composition of the new Congress that takes office in January.

 

Open Season Is Coming

As Open Season for Federal Employee Health Benefits program is around the corner (Monday, November 12 to Monday, December 10, 2018), we would like to draw your attention to an excellent AFSA benefit, the Consumers Checkbook Guide to Health Plans for Federal Employees. This checkbook gives you vital information that you cannot get from any other source. It tells you how much money you can save by changing—or by staying in—your health insurance plan. It summarizes thousands of facts about the plans to simplify your choice. This guide will be available to AFSA members in mid-November; watch for our announcement.

 

Medicare Part B Premium Reimbursements?

For those of you who did not catch this discussion on our Online Community, certain FEHB plans, including Blue Cross/Blue Shield Basic Option, offered in 2018 at least partial reimbursement of Medicare Part B premiums to offset part of the cost of enrolling in Medicare Part B. This is certainly a feature to take into account when assessing various health plans during the upcoming Open Season. In the case of Blue Cross/Blue Shield, the reimbursable amount for 2018 is $600. Here is a list of FEHB plans offering reimbursement in 2018, which is provided by the website Fedsmith.

  • Aetna Direct, members can request reimbursement for Medicare premiums that will be reduced from the medical fund amount.
  • BlueCross Blue Shield PPO – Basic Option – Limited HRA is provided to any member enrolled in Medicare Part A and Part B; reimbursement is to be used exclusively to pay Medicare Part B premiums – $600 annually. (New)
  • Aetna HealthFund HDHP – reimburse Medicare premiums using HRA funds.
  • Aetna Health of Utah HDHP – reimburse Medicare premiums using HRA funds.
  • CareFirst HDHP – reimburse Medicare premiums using HRA funds.
  • GEHA HDHP – reimburse Medicare premiums using HRA funds.
  • Independent Health HDHP – reimburse Medicare premiums using HRA funds.
  • Kaiser Northern California, High Option – Limited HRA reimbursement up to $125 of Medicare Part B monthly premium.
  • Kaiser Northwest – High Option – reimburse Medicare B premiums up to $125 per month.
  • Kaiser Health Plan of Washington HDHP – reimburse Medicare premiums using HRA funds.
  • MHBP Consumer Option – reimburse Medicare premiums using HRA funds.
  • TakeCare HDHP – reimburse Medicare premiums using HRA funds.
  • United Healthcare Insurance Choice Plus HDHP – reimburse Medicare premiums using HRA funds.
 

Combined Federal Campaign

The 2018 Combined Federal Campaign (CFC) is underway. FS annuitants are not able to make CFC elections online, but there are three other ways to make donations. All require acting by January 11, 2019. The first two require you to request a paper pledge form by emailing CFC@state.gov and providing your name and mailing address. The list of participating non-profit organizations is online at https://cfcgiving.opm.gov/welcome. The three ways to participate are:

  • Donate via monthly annuity deductions beginning February 1, 2019 through January 1, 2020 by filling out and returning the completed CFC Pledge Form by email to payhelp@state.gov or mail the CFC Pledge Form to: U.S. Department of State, P.O. Box 150008, Charleston, SC 29415 (Attn: Payroll Customer Support).
  • Donate by check or money order payable to “Combined Federal Campaign” mailed and received with total contribution outlined in section 4 of CFC Pledge Form to the following address: CFC Processing Center, P.O. Box 7820, Madison, WI 53707-7820.
  • Donate anonymously via credit card donation via https://cfcgiving.opm.gov/welcome.

If you have questions regarding CFC contributions, contact cfc@state.gov. For questions regarding payroll deductions, contact payhelp@state.gov.

Please consider donating to AFSA’s Fund for American Diplomacy (FAD), which is listed in CFC as “Diplomacy Matters-AFSA” under CFC number #10646. The FAD supports outreach to tell the story of the Foreign Service to the American people. Its aim is to build a domestic constituency for the Foreign Service with supporters in all 50 states prepared to stand up for the Foreign Service and defend our vitally important mission. For more information, please visit: www.afsa.org/fad.

 

Upcoming Events at AFSA

Please mark your calendars for three upcoming events for members.

  • On October 25, AFSA President Ambassador Barbara Stephenson will host a webinar for retiree members to give them the view from Washington, with a focus on advocacy efforts and AFSA’s focus on economic diplomacy. See more detail in item #1 above.
  • On November 6 at 12 noon, Social Security expert Ed Zurndorfer will give an updated version of his popular talk, “Getting the Most Out of Your Social Security.” Click here to register.
  • Then please plan to join us for our annual holiday happy hour from 4:30-6:30 p.m. on Thursday, December 6. Holiday cheer and a themed cocktail await you, in addition to good company. Click here to register.

If you have missed a recent event – such as our August program on the Medicare and FEHB or the September seminar on the TSP – please visit www.afsa.org/video to view them in their entirety.

 

If You Do NOT Want a Copy of the AFSA Retiree Directory…

We recognize that not everyone will want a hard copy of the upcoming 2019 AFSA Retiree Directory in the mail, and we want to offer those individuals an easy way of opting out. Simply send us an email to miele@afsa.org and we will ensure that you are removed from the directory mailing list. The entire AFSA member directory remains available online through the AFSA website.

 

Talking TSP

Randy Urban, a trainer and liaison who has been working with the Thrift Savings Plan (TSP) for over 20 years, recently presented at AFSA on the TSP. Many questions revolved around the timing of the new features TSP will soon put into play, which Mr. Urban said are required to be implemented by November 2019. These changes are contained in the TSP Withdrawal Options Bill, which became law on November 17, 2017. On that date, President Trump signed the TSP Modernization Act of 2017, which will provide TSP participants with more flexible withdrawal options.

The law eliminates the statutory prohibition on multiple post-separation withdrawals and multiple age-based withdrawals while a participant is still working. It also removes the restriction that participants cannot take partial post-separation withdrawals if they’ve already taken an age-based in-service withdrawal. Though it has no effect on required minimum distributions mandated by the Internal Revenue Code, the law also allows separated participants who are over age 70½ to remain in the TSP, eliminating the requirement to make a withdrawal election on an entire account balance. Participants will also be able to stop monthly payments, change payment frequency, or elect to purchase an annuity while receiving monthly payments.

Click to access Mr. Urban’s PowerPoint Presentation and a recording of his September 26 presentation at AFSA headquarters, "Everything You Need to Know About the TSP."

 

FS Pipeline Primed

For those of you interested in what’s happening with Foreign Service hiring, we are glad to write that AFSA hosted two new incoming classes during the first weeks of October. The 149th Specialist Class numbered 66 students and the 195th A-100 class is 85 strong. Two more classes – the 150th Specialist and the 196th A-100 – will come on board in December.

 

Annual Foreign Service Annuitant Newsletter

Be on the lookout in mid-November for the 2019 Foreign Service Annual Annuitant Newsletter published by State Department’s Office of Retirement. State no longer mails printed copies to each of the 16,000 Foreign Service annuitants and survivors. Instead, the 28-page newsletter is posted on the internet at https://RNet.state.gov under the “What’s New?” tab. The 2018 newsletter is there now if you have not already reviewed it. If you are unable to access the 2019 Foreign Service Annuitant Newsletter, you may request a hard copy by sending an email with your full name and complete mailing address to: FS_Newsletter@state.gov. Publication each year is timed to coincide with the start of the Open Season for making changes to your Federal Employees Health Benefits plan. Open Season this year runs for November 12 to December 10. The newsletter contains the form you will need to submit if you want to change your enrollment.

But, even if you intend to stick with your current health insurance provider, please read through the newsletter which has important information about your retirement benefits. For example, it includes information on the annual Cost of Living adjustment, instructions for logging on to Annuitant Express to view your annuity statements or update your address, and an explanation of how your annuity is taxed.

The newsletter includes instructions on how to report post-retirement marriage or divorce and instructions on how your next-of-kin can apply for survivors’ benefits. It gives retirees under age 62 the form that most of them must submit next January to report their wage earnings. There is a list of key government points of contact regarding your retirement benefits. There is information about the Re-Employed Annuitant (formerly WAE) program, the Combined Federal Campaign, the FSN Emergency Relief Fund, and the Senior Living Foundation of the American Foreign Service.