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Key developments in the world of federal employee benefits: health, pay, and much more.
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TRICARE Increases Mental Health Care Providers

TRICARE beneficiaries soon will have another option for mental health providers, the Defense Department announced.

As of Aug. 18, enrollees in the military’s health care system can choose between independent TRICARE-certified mental health counselors (TCMHC) or supervised mental health counselors (SMHC) under a final rule the department published in the Federal Register on July 17. The TRICARE-certified counselors are independent providers who can treat beneficiaries without a physician’s oversight as long as they have a master’s degree from a mental health counseling program accredited by the Council for Accreditation of Counseling and Related Education Programs, and pass the National Clinical Mental Health Counseling exam by Jan. 1, 2017. SMHCs provide care under the referral and supervision of TRICARE doctors.

The fiscal 2011 National Defense Authorization Act required Defense to develop criteria and guidance to allow licensed mental health counselors to provide and be paid for independent care to TRICARE beneficiaries to improve the quality of mental health care and standardize it. Before the change, enrollees only had access to SMHCs. The 2011 interim rule proposed phasing out supervised mental health counselors, but the final rule allows their services to continue indefinitely, giving them more time to obtain ...

OPM Announces More Flexibility for Dental and Vision Coverage

Federal employees who get married on the job, or return to work after a period of leave without pay, soon will be able to enroll for dental and vision coverage outside of Open Season.

The Office of Personnel Management on Wednesday announced the final rule making it easier for feds with certain “qualifying life events” to change their dental and vision benefits close to when the event occurs, rather than waiting for the annual open season window in November. The purpose of the “expanded enrollment opportunities” is to “better align” the Federal Employee Dental and Vision Insurance Program with enrollees’ overall health care plan when their life circumstances change, the rule stated.

The new rule takes effect Aug. 15.

OPM defines qualifying life events for federal employees as getting married; having their pension or compensation restored after it was terminated; returning to pay status after being on leave without pay because of deployment to active military duty; or returning to federal employment after being on leave without pay, if the employee did not have federal dental or vision coverage before going on LWOP, or the coverage was terminated or canceled during the leave without pay.

The time frames within which ...

The Benefits Federal Employees Love Most

This just in: Federal employees really like their retirement and health benefits.

OK, so maybe that is not exactly breaking news. But a recently released survey shows federal workers value nearly all of their benefits. Their satisfaction has dropped off, however.

The Office of Personnel Management first conducted the Federal Employee Benefits Survey in 2004, and has followed up sporadically ever since. The 2013 results show a few offerings have become increasingly unpopular with the federal workforce, while others have become so popular their use is nearly ubiquitous.

Generally speaking, federal employees are really happy with the Thrift Savings Plan. About 94 percent of federal workers -- who, since 2010, have been automatically enrolled in the 401(k)-type program but can opt out -- were TSP participants, the highest participation rate of any benefit program.  The next highest enrollment was in the Federal Employees Health Benefits Program, which maintained an 82 percent participation rate. The Federal Long Term Care Insurance Program fell on the other side of the spectrum, with just 6.7 percent of respondents saying they participate.

OPM asked respondents to comment on the importance of each program, and the scores were up in every category since 2004 except ...

Defense Would Get the Most Mileage From Trimming Pay, Benefits

Thanks to sequestration, the Defense Department will have to reduce its spending by $500 billion over the next 10 years.

Despite congressional resistance, Pentagon leaders -- up to and including the commander in chief -- have repeatedly sought to rein in compensation for military members and retirees in order to reach the reduced spending level.

A new report from the Congressional Budget Office underscored this point, noting non-pay and benefits changes -- such as using existing or cheaper weapons systems -- would only achieve a fraction of the necessary cuts.

The most significant compensation reduction option, CBO found, would come from cutting retirement pay for veterans already receiving disability payments from the Veterans Affairs Department. Prior to 2004, military retirees -- former personnel with 20 years of service -- had their retirement pay reduced by the amount of any VA disability compensation they also received. Moving back to that system would save Defense $108 billion over the next decade, according to CBO.

The non-partisan budget office said the current system compensates disabled veterans twice for their service, but the two payments reward “different characteristics of military service.”

Cutting compensation for veterans has proven nearly impossible in Congress. The 2013 Bipartisan Budget Act cut $6 billion from ...

Agencies, Congress Work to Ensure Government Isn’t Overpaying Employees

The next paycheck for some federal contractors will be a lot a smaller. Or at least the portion paid by Uncle Sam.

The Defense Department, General Services Administration and NASA issued an interim rule on Tuesday to lower the maximum reimbursable pay for federal contractors by nearly half. The rule goes into effect immediately.

Congress passed the new cap as part of the 2013 Bipartisan Budget Act, enacted late last year to set the spending levels for fiscal years 2014 and 2015. The law reduced the cap from $952,308 to $487,000, a 49 percent decrease. All new contracts signed, or costs incurred on old contracts, on or after Tuesday will only reimburse private employees at the new rate. Contracted companies can pay their employees more, but must do so on their own dime.

The reduction is coupled with a recently finalized rule that expanded the cap to all contract employees working with Defense, GSA and NASA, rather than just the five highest paid executives. That rule drew the ire of the federal contracting community -- in part because it was retroactive to 2012. The new reduction also angered contractors.

The cap spiked to its recent $952,308 figure at ...