A federal employee union is urging the government to provide temporary and seasonal workers access to health insurance as soon as possible.
The National Treasury Employees Union, which represents many temporary Internal Revenue Service workers employed during tax season, commented on the current draft regulations detailing the expansion of the Federal Employees Health Benefits Program to previously ineligible employees.
“NTEU urges OPM to ensure that the regulations state that health insurance coverage for these employees is effective as of the first day of employment, as is currently done for other employees,” the union said in its comments. The comment period for feedback on the draft rules ends Thursday.
Currently, temporary, intermittent and seasonal employees who work for fewer than six months each year are not eligible to enroll in FEHBP. At the end of July, OPM issued a proposed rule to grant many of those workers identified as full-time employees access to the insurance benefit.
Under the draft regulations, employees who are scheduled to work at least 130 hours in a calendar month and work at least 90 days will be FEHBP-eligible by January 2015. Some temporary employees -- those with more than one year of service -- are currently able to participate in the health care program, but do not qualify for a government contribution. Under the new rule, all temporary, seasonal and intermittent employees working enough hours will receive a contribution from their employing agency.
The union called on OPM to provide an effective date of coverage as of the 91st day of employment for those initially expected to work less than 90 days, but whose schedules are changed and expanded. NTEU also said OPM should clarify in its final rule that agencies must provide information to newly-FEHBP eligible employees about the program and their health insurance options. “NTEU requests that OPM encourage agencies to begin identifying newly eligible existing employees, so that these individuals are given the opportunity to enroll at the earliest possible time rather than at the January 2015 deadline,” the union stated in its comments.
Once the rule is final, temporary, seasonal and intermittent employees will have 60 days upon receiving notice from their employer to enroll in FEHBP.
OPM estimated 1 percent to 2 percent of the civilian federal workforce is currently ineligible for FEHBP, and could therefore benefit from this change.
“This is a welcome step for important groups of federal employees that have been excluded from the FEHBP,” NTEU President Colleen Kelley said in a statement.
In 2012, President Obama directed OPM to expand FEHBP coverage to part-time firefighters and other emergency response personnel. Only 10 percent to 20 percent of newly eligible employees actually enrolled in the benefit, OPM said. Using that baseline, OPM said the expansion will cost the federal government between $21 million and $42 million annually.
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