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Is my federal employee health plan a better deal than Medicare?

September 20, 2012: 6:30 AM ET

I am a retired federal government employee. My wife and I are covered through the Federal Employees Health Benefits Program (FEHB). I have been advised to not sign up for Medicare because the coverage overlaps and FEHB is a better deal. Is it? — Robert J.

The two programs cover similar expenses in many areas, but there are a number of important differences. For example, FEHB covers emergency care outside the United States, while Medicare covers certain orthopedics, prosthetics and medical supplies not covered by FEHB. "The right program is a matter of your individual circumstances and needs," says Ron Naumann of Oregon Pacific Financial Advisors in Medford, Ore.

There also can be some variation in FEHB benefits depending on what government group you worked for, according to Naumann. So be sure to contact your Office of Personnel Management administrator to get the details on your benefits.

That said, Naumann does suggest signing up for Medicare Part A as soon as you are eligible because it covers some hospital-related costs not covered by FEHB. What's more, Medicare Part A doesn't require a premium if you or your spouse have paid into Medicare for at least 10 years. For Medicare parts B, C and D, however, just remember that premiums are risk-adjusted, so the longer you wait to enroll, the higher the premiums you will have to pay.

In the end, Naumann says, if you can't afford or don't plan on buying Medicare part B, your FEHB plan is the more economical choice.

— Austin Kilham

Got a question for the Help Desk? Send it to helpdesk@cnnmoney.com.

Posted in: Family Money, Retirement
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