Early retirement and FEHB

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Q. I am a combination CSRS/FERS 32-year employee of the Postal Service, age 54. I did not have health insurance through the post office because I was always covered by my husband’s health insurance. I only took my own health insurance because I was told I had to be in the program for five years to be eligible to keep the insurance after I retire (in case something happened to my husband or the place he worked at).

I have been in the program for four years as of January and did not plan on retiring until January 2014, at which time I would be 56 and would be in the insurance program for the full five years.

Upon talking to the human resources department, I was told in all likelihood that the five-year requirement would be waived as the Voluntary Early Retirement Authority is a “qualifying life event.” I am hoping that is the case but have not heard back from the Office of Personnel Management yet. I will need that in writing before I decide to retire.

I also heard that there is some type of Social Security payment to postal employees that is not going to exist after next year. Do you know anything about this?

Lastly, I have been told the maximum amount of vacation (annual leave) the post office will pay at the time of retirement is 440 hours, and that any earned annual leave above 440 hours is lost. Can you help?

A. While taking early retirement offered by your agency isn’t a qualifying life event, you would be entitled to carry your Federal Employees Health Benefits coverage into retirement because you were enrolled in the program before the offer was made to you. Your agency would attach a statement to that effect when your retirement package went to OPM.

That “some type of Social Security payment” is the special retirement supplement, which approximates the amount of Social Security benefit you earned while a FERS employee. You would be entitled to that as soon as you reached your minimum retirement age. MRAs range between 55 and 57, depending on your year of birth. P.S. The SRS will continue beyond next year unless legislation is passed to change it.

As I understand it, you will lose any accrued and unused annual leave you have above the annual limit, which is 440 hours.

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