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Key developments in the world of federal employee benefits: health, pay, and much more.

Health and taxes

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Several readers have written in with questions about the new law allowing employees to have health insurance premiums treated as pre-tax income.

One reader wants to know if after he takes advantage of "premium conversion" (the Office of Personnel Management's name for the new benefit) he can still claim Federal Employee Health Benefits Program (FEHBP) premiums as an itemized tax deduction.

The answer is no. Here's the official word from OPM:

"Yes, premium conversion eliminates the deductibility of FEHB premiums, but remember that premium conversion may eliminate taxes not affected by itemized deductions such as Medicare and Social Security. You may wish to consult a tax advisor."

Several retirees have written to find out if they can get in out the pre-tax health benefit. Again, the answer is no. At least not yet. Rep. Tom Davis, R-Va. has introduced a bill, H.R. 4277, that would allow retirees, military service members and retirees, and legislative branch employees to receive the tax break, but it is unlikely that the bill will pass this year.

Premium conversion goes into effect in the first pay period that begins on or after Oct. 1. Unless employees opt out of the new program, they are enrolled automatically.

Student Loans

OPM Director Janice R. Lachance said Wednesday that her agency will issue final regulations on student loan repayments this fall. Under section 5379 of Title 5 of the U.S. Code, agencies can repay employee student loans to "recruit or retain highly qualified professional, technical or administrative personnel." However, OPM has yet to issue implementing regulations for the law.

Once those regulations are put into place later this year, individual agencies will be responsible for determining how they will use the student loan repayment program. For more background on the issue, see "OPM seeks to expand student loan repayment benefit" (June 20).

Avoid Those Museum Lines

Here's a perk of being a federal employee that you probably didn't know about. Starting Oct. 1 federal employees, retirees and Postal workers can jump the line at the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum.

Usually visitors arrive at the museum and are issued a pass that allows them to return at a certain time that day. But federal employees can receive immediate entrance to the permanent exhibition simply by displaying a government ID at the museum's pass desk. Federal employees can bring up to four guests and no day or time restrictions apply.

The Holocaust museum is located at 100 Raoul Wallenberg Place SW (formerly 15th St.), in Washington, just south of Independence Ave. The museum is open daily from 10 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. For more information contact the museum at (202) 488-0448 or go to http://www.ushmm.org.

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