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With the health care debate reaching a crescendo this week, lawmakers again are talking about the Federal Employees Health Benefits Program as a vehicle for providing health care coverage to uninsured Americans.

Rep. Darrell Issa, R-Calif., used the House floor on Tuesday to promote his bill, Access to Insurance for All Americans Act (H.R. 3438). The legislation would require the Office of Personnel Management to create a health insurance program, through one or more carriers, to cover all Americans except those already covered by Medicare or Medicaid.

Issa claimed the bill, which he introduced in July, helps provide the same level of coverage to all Americans that elected officials enjoy -- a principle espoused by President Obama and other Democrats in their health care proposal. Issa's office created a YouTube video to compile statements from Obama supporting FEHBP-like exchanges for uninsured Americans.

"As one big group, these customers will have greater leverage to bargain with the insurance companies for better prices and quality coverage," Obama said during a September 2009 speech to a joint session of Congress. "This is how large companies and government employees get affordable insurance. It's how everyone in this Congress gets affordable insurance. And it's time to give every American the same opportunity that we give ourselves."

Issa said the current health care reform bill doesn't achieve that result, but his seven-page proposal would do so.

What Obama and his supporters have been defending are the state-based exchanges the Senate-passed health care bill would create, which in some respects are similar to the FEHBP exchanges available to federal employees. In both cases, the goal is to lower health care costs by requiring insurance companies to compete for a large pool of customers. Aside from state-based exchanges, the current health care bill also would require OPM to contract with private carriers to create national, nonprofit health care plans for uninsured Americans.

Issa's bill doesn't say how administrative costs would be paid, only that the government would not contribute to nonfederal employees in the plan, leaving the total cost up to enrollees. It also would keep segregated risk pools for federal employees and annuitants, and privately enrolled citizens. Employee groups have said if FEHBP is used for health care reform, then separate risk pools for the two groups is essential to preserving federal benefits.

Speaking of FEHBP…

The Federal Managers Association plans to push a Self Plus One option to FEHBP as part of its legislative agenda this year. Designed as a middle ground between single and family coverage, the option would allow enrollees to include one eligible family member to their health coverage.

"Many federal employees face substantial and unnecessary health care costs because they require insurance coverage for only themselves plus their spouse or an unmarried dependent child under the age of 22, yet are forced to purchase FEHBP Self Plus Family coverage, where they experience the same health care premiums as large families," FMA wrote in newsletters to members distributed during its recent annual national conference.

Crunching Numbers

OPM announced on Monday potential changes in the calculation of benefits allocated to certain federal employees, including firefighters and air traffic controllers, who receive enhanced disability and survivor annuities. The agency plans to recalculate the annuities of affected employees because of modifications in the applicable statutes. If the new math yields a higher annuity payment, then those employees will see an increase to their benefits. If the recalculation doesn't result in more earnings, then the government won't make any changes to those payments.

Click here for a list of affected federal jobs.

 
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