Wednesday, October 25, 2006

Wading through the applications

I finished filling out my job packet on Monday night, a full week after receiving it. It took me so long because there are pages and pages to fill out. I actually had most of it filled out on the first day. I was not too clear on what to do for the insurance forms. I admit that I put it off a couple days because it seemed pretty daunting. I did make a call to the Personnel department in Austin for some help. The person who helped me out was great. She was very knowledgeable and willing to explain anything for which I had questions. Best of all, she gave me a link to the ERS website, http://www.ers.state.tx.us/, where I could get more details than I would over the phone.My main trouble areas were making decisions over the health insurance and dental insurance.

If you are a single person and become a Legislative Aide, the state will cover all of your health insurance costs. In my case, I am married with two children. This means that a significant chunk of my insurance cost will be deducted from my pay every month. It will still be a hefty chunk with the State of Texas covering 50% of the cost. I called our family doctor's office to ask what combination of insurance to get. You see, my wife will be working for Hidalgo County where the county also covers the employee's health insurance. Our doctor's office suggested we go with Blue Cross/Blue Shield, the State's insurance, rather than the county's free insurance for my wife. Hidalgo County keeps jumping from insurance company to insurance company. The net result is that you have to keep learning what is and isn't covered every year. In any case, the HMO is not available in my county, which leaves only the Blue Cross/Blue Shield option. For the dental insurance, however, I had to do some research.

Just like with the health insurance, the dental offers two options. The first is a dental HMO plan. The second is similar to traditional insurance. I will admit that I was predisposed to go against the HMO plan. In comparing the plans, we concluded that in our situation, we would be better off with the HMO because the monthly premiums are smaller and there is no lifetime cap on benefits. In addition, we would have to wait three years before seeing any significant reductions in our co-pay with the traditional dental insurance. The HMO plan, however, has set prices on all the possible charges with the benefits immediately available. Many things are at no cost and the items that do cost are at a set, reduced price within our ability to afford.

As a new state employee, you have some important decisions to make when choosing your benefits. It's great that the state offers its employees options rather than a one size fits all plan. I suggest that you use your first month, as you only have 30 days to make your elections after being hired, to really study the plans offered. Also, don't be afraid to call the Personnel/Payroll office in Austin for help. They are very friendly and willing to help. Once you've made your decisions, you have until open enrollment in August to make any changes. Good luck!
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