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

Open Season, VA Bonuses, Vets’ Benefits, Military Pay, and More

It’s that time of year again: Federal employees and retirees can make changes to their health insurance coverage. Open Season for 2016 officially began on Nov. 9 and runs through Dec. 14.

Feds and retirees can choose or switch plans under the Federal Employees Health Benefits Program, as well as sign up for flexible spending accounts. In 2016, FEHBP enrollees will have a new self-plus-one option. In September of this year, the Office of Personnel Management announced that FEHBP beneficiaries would pay an average of 7.4 percent more toward their health insurance premiums in 2016. Click here for more information on Open Season.

Speaking of health care, a new survey of 800 veterans commissioned by the nonpartisan Vet Voice Foundation found that more than half of the respondents are happy with the performance of their local Veterans Affairs Department hospitals. “Notably, veterans soundly reject that VA hospitals in their area should be run like a for-profit private hospital,” concluded the survey, conducted in October by Democratic polling firm Lake Research Partners and Republican polling group Chesapeake Beach Consulting. “They do believe they need more doctors, and half say it takes too long [to receive care]. But veterans believe...

TRICARE Premium Hike, Gender Pay Gap and More

Military personnel and retirees who carry adult children on their TRICARE health insurance plans will see significant premium hikes next year. The Defense Department announced the cost increase last week.

The TRICARE Young Adult Prime and Standard options, which cover beneficiaries aged 23-26, will increase to $306 per month and $228 per month, respectively.  

“TRICARE is required to set these premiums to cover the full cost of health care received by TYA beneficiaries. For the first time since TYA was created in 2011, TRICARE has sufficient statistically valid cost data to set annual premiums,” the Pentagon announcement said. Officials noted that TRICARE Young Adult coverage is comparable to other platinum-level health care plans.

While the Pentagon is obligated to charge more for those premiums, a bipartisan group of lawmakers wants to protect you from financial scams.

Reps. Matthew Cartwright, D-Pa., Gerald Connolly, D-Va., and 24 other cosponsors introduced the Annuity Safety and Security Under Reasonable Enforcement (ASSURE) Act, which aims to protect federal employees from crooks who try to swindle them out of their retirement benefits.

Richard Thissen, president of the National Active and Retired Federal Employees Association, says the legislation would protect feds from “pension advance” schemes that offer...

TSP Contribution Caps, Locality Pay, No Budget Pain For Feds, And More

The cap on annual individual contributions to employer-sponsored retirement savings plans, including the Thrift Savings Plan, will remain at $18,000 in 2016, according to the Internal Revenue Service.

“In general, the pension plan limitations will not change for 2016 because the increase in the cost-of-living index did not meet the statutory thresholds that trigger their adjustment,” said the IRS in an announcement on the agency’s website.

The limit applies to the combined total of contributions to traditional and Roth accounts. For military service members, the cap includes all traditional and Roth contributions from taxable basic payincentive payspecial pay and bonus pay, but does not apply to traditional contributions made from tax-exempt pay earned in a combat zone.

In addition, catch-up contributions for employees age 50 and older remain at the same level -- $6,000 – next year. So for those employees, their individual contributions cannot exceed $24,000 for the year. Those interested in catch-up contributions need to make a separate election request for that option.

For 2016, the limit for the total amount of all TSP contributions on behalf of an employee -- individual, agency automatic and matching – also is unchanged at $53,000.

Here’s a...

Last-Ditch Effort for a COLA Increase, a Spending Hike for a Popular Perk and More

Federal retirees last week officially learned what many had likely already feared: there will be no cost-of-living adjustment next year. At least one lawmaker wants to change that, though it’s unclear how far his efforts will get.

Rep. Alan Grayson, D-Fla., introduced a bill (H.R. 3761) that would grant retirees a 2.9 percent COLA for 2016. That is more than retirees have received in most recent years. The 2015 COLA was 1.7 percent, and the 2014 increase was 1.5 percent. Retirees did receive a 3.6 percent boost in 2012.

The Seniors Deserve a Raise Act would also change the consumer price index used to calculate the COLA in future years to one that more accurately reflects items on which the elderly spend money, such as health care, Grayson said. Specifically, the COLA would be based on the change in the Consumer Price Index for the Elderly (CPI-E) rather than the Consumer Price Index for Urban Wage Earners and Clerical Workers (CPI-W). Using the CPI-E over the past 39 years would have generated $388 billion more in payments to seniors, according to the Congressional Research Service, Grayson said.

“Simply put, most of our parents and...

Retirement Benefits At Risk, an Expansion of Navy Paternity Leave and More

Federal pay and benefits issues are not coming up as much for the Democratic presidential candidates as they are for Republicans. Last night’s Democratic debate was no exception, though there was some discussion of health care and education benefits for veterans. The Democratic candidates also touched on an issue that affects federal employees as well as other Americans: paid family leave. Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders and frontrunner Hillary Clinton both said they would like to create a federal mandate for paid family leave.

This would build on policies the Obama administration is already extending to the federal workforce. Obama last winter ordered federal agencies to advance employees up to six weeks of paid sick leave to care for a new child or ill family member. He also asked lawmakers to grant an additional six weeks of paid leave for the birth or adoption of a child. Lawmakers heeded his call by introducing legislation, but Congress has yet to pass the measures.

Meanwhile, the Navy is taking matters into its own hands. The service this summer tripled paid maternity leave for sailors and Marines to 18 weeks, and now officials are considering expanding paternity leave as well, the Associated Press...