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

Higher Medicare Premiums for Former Feds, Another Crack at Lifetime Credit Monitoring and More

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Some federal retirees could soon see a major uptick in their Medicare premiums thanks to a loophole that fails to protect them from low inflation rates.

Because inflation is currently low, there is no cost-of-living adjustment set to kick in for federal retirees or Social Security recipients in 2016. When that happens, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services freezes the premiums for about 70 percent of Medicare Part B recipients.

Included in the other 30 percent, however, are federal retirees in the Civil Service Retirement System. CMS said these individuals would pay a higher premium next year, based on current projections. CSRS participants do not receive Social Security, excluding them from the “hold harmless” protection that prevents Medicare Part B premiums from increasing for most program enrollees.

When premiums are frozen for 70 percent of Medicare Part B enrollees, some costs get shifted to the other 30 percent. The increase could come to about $55 per month -- a 50 percent jump -- for most participants in the program, which covers doctor visits and other outpatient care, according to The Wall Street Journal.

That could affect 800,000 federal retirees, The Washington Post reported.

Nothing is final, however; CMS said it will make decisions on premium changes in October.

In the meantime, federal retirees -- as well as current employees, contractors and applicants -- are worried about their identities getting stolen after their personal histories were compromised in a breach of data maintained by the Office of Personnel Management.

OPM, working with the General Services Administration, Defense Department and others, has solicited offers from contractors to provide protection services to the 21.5 million individuals affected, and up to 6.3 million of their dependent minors. The government will provide that group with three years of credit monitoring and identity theft protections. It gave just 18 months of those benefits to the 4.2 million former and current federal employees affected by the initial breach of personnel data.

Hack victims could be in store for far greater protections, however. Lawmakers put forward a range of proposals to strengthen or lengthen the benefit. A Senate panel approved as part of a spending bill a measure to give those impacted 10 years of protection services.

The most recent proposal from lawmakers would give lifetime protection. Maryland Sens. Ben Cardin and Barbara Mikulski, both Democrats, pitched that plan as an amendment to a larger cybersecurity bill currently up for debate in the Senate.

The bill is in limbo, however, as lawmakers debate which amendments to include for a vote. It is unclear if or when the Cardin-Mikulski proposal will make its way to the Senate floor.

Some federal employees will not have to wait for congressional politics to receive good news on the compensation front. Acting OPM Director Beth Cobert said in a recent memorandum federal agencies should de-emphasize previous pay levels when hiring to help bridge the gender pay gap in government.

Cobert said relying on existing salary could to determine pay “could potentially adversely affect a candidate who is returning to the workplace after having taken extended time off from his or her career, or for whom an existing rate of pay is not reflective of the candidate’s current qualifications or existing labor market conditions.”

Finally, long-term insurance rates went up for new enrollees starting this week. The increase was unexpected and previously unannounced. The jump will range from about $7 per biweekly period to about $15, according to examples provided by OPM.

The Federal Long Term Care Insurance Program, which was created in 2002, assists with health care costs for participants who need help with daily personal functions, or who have a severe cognitive illness, and covers home care or care in a nursing home or assisted living facility -- benefits not often included under health insurance plans.

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Eric Katz writes about federal agency operations and management. His deep coverage of Veterans Affairs, Homeland Security, the Environmental Protection Agency and U.S. Postal Service has earned him frequent guest spots on national radio and television news programs. Eric joined Government Executive in the summer of 2012 and previously worked for The Financial Times. He is a graduate of The George Washington University.

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