Proposal would end federal health benefits plan

Several of the more than 500 amendments the Senate Finance Committee is facing as it begins a marathon markup of health care reform legislation would affect public servants' health coverage -- and one would end the federal government's health insurance program.

The provision, offered by ranking member Sen. Charles Grassley, R-Iowa, would force civil servants to leave the Federal Employees Health Benefits Program and purchase insurance through the state-based health exchanges that are a centerpiece of the health reform bill. Employees would move to the exchanges beginning in 2013.

The idea behind the amendment is "to require that elected officials and federal employees purchase insurance in the same manner proposed in the [bill] for private citizens," according to a summary on the Finance Committee's Web site.

Representatives from Grassley's office did not return calls for comment.

Daniel Adcock, legislative director for the National Active and Retired Federal Employees Association, said his organization would oppose such an amendment. He noted the proposal could be designed to damage the overall bill's chances of passage. "It may be a way to drive a point home -- if the exchange system is good enough for the public, then it should be good enough for federal employees," Adcock said.

Another proposed amendment, sponsored by Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., would allow some members of the general public to purchase FEHBP benefits. Qualifying citizens would join the same risk pool as federal employees, which could result in increased premiums for current enrollees, Adcock said. He added that NARFE would support the idea only if enrollees from outside the government were placed in a separate risk pool.

The Finance Committee began considering amendments on Tuesday; Chairman Sen. Max Baucus, D-Mont., is aiming to complete the markup by the end of the week.

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