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

Obese Feds Can Now Have Their Diet Pills Covered

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The best means to achieving weight loss is through diet and exercise.

So says the Office of Personnel Management and, well, everyone.

OPM has acknowledged there are other means to shed the pounds, however, including through the use of “drug therapy.” Several anti-obesity medications are approved by the Food and Drug Administration, and OPM said in 2015 providers on the Federal Employees Health Benefits Program cannot exclude coverage of them on the basis of lifestyle or cosmetics.

“We want to clarify that excluding weight loss drugs from FEHB coverage on the basis that obesity is a ‘lifestyle’ condition and not a medical one or that obesity treatment is ‘cosmetic’-- is not permissible,” OPM wrote in a March letter to carriers.

The human resources agency implored providers to take care to ensure their enrollees are using the drugs appropriately, as weight loss pills “may be subject to abuse and misuse.” Consumption of weight loss drugs should always accompany the “mainstays” of diet and physical activity, OPM said.

OPM noted the Veterans Affairs Department’s VA MOVE! program as a model. That program requires employees to participate in a diet and behavior modification plan before qualifying for pills.

More Convenient Weight Loss Surgery

Last year, OPM set strict guidelines for when federal employees qualified for bariatric -- or weight loss -- surgery, including a certain threshold of body-mass index.

This year, OPM told carriers to make it easier to get procedures such as gastric band or bypass surgery. In conjunction with the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services no longer requiring bariatric surgery procedures be performed at certain pre-approved facilities, OPM said FEHBP carriers should consider referring enrollees to more convenient locations.

OPM still encouraged surgeries to be performed at designated facilities, however, and told providers they could reduce enrollees’ cost share or provide them travel reimbursement if they opt for a procedure at a “center of excellence.”

Air Force Retirement Mixup

Some Air Force employees received mixed messages in the past few days.

The military service recently offered early retirement incentives to employees as part of an ongoing effort to reduce the branch's footprint. The Air Force has approved more than 3,000 retirement applications in the current window.

A select group of those approved for retirement -- fewer than 20 individuals, the Air Force said -- were later told their application was accepted in error and the early retirement was revoked.

However, after an outcry from the group -- including a petition to the White House -- the Air Force decided to make good on all of its acceptances.

An additional 2,500 airmen have accepted voluntary separation pay. Eligible personnel have until May 1 to accept that offer. 

Clarification: This story has been changed to clarify that FEHBP plans do not have to cover diet pills, but they cannot use lifestyle or cosmetics as reasons to deny coverage. 

(Image via atm2003/Shutterstock.com)

Eric Katz joined Government Executive in the summer of 2012 after graduating from The George Washington University, where he studied journalism and political science. He has written for his college newspaper and an online political news website and worked in a public affairs office for the Navy’s Military Sealift Command. Most recently, he worked for Financial Times, where he reported on national politics.

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