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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

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...

A Big Appetite for Additional Hack Protections, Extra Paid Sick Leave for Some Feds and More

The hack of federal employees’ personal data maintained by the Office of Personnel Management continued to dominate benefits news last week, with lawmakers pushing for increased protections against misuse of the stolen information. The Senate Appropriations Committee last Thursday approved a measure that would give hack victims 10 years of credit monitoring services and $5 million in liability protection.

A top House Democrat went even further, calling for lifetime protection for victims of the breach. It’s not even clear if that would be enough, said Rep. Steny Hoyer, D-Md. “There may be some things we cannot compensate for,” he said.

The federal workforce certainly seems to have an appetite for protective services. CSID, the company OPM selected to provide credit and identity theft protection to the 4.2 million current and former federal employees affected by the initial breach of personnel files, has seen about 22 percent of hack victims enroll into its services. That is compared to a typical response rate of 3 percent to 5 percent of victims in large-scale private sector breaches.

The enthusiastic response could set the bar higher for whichever contractor OPM selects to provide the “suite of services” that has been promised to...

Removing Poor Performers, Avoiding Bad Financial Advice, Extending Probation for New Feds and More

When an agency has to reduce the size of its workforce, should poor performers be first in line to go? That’s a no-brainer for most private sector organizations. But the issue is less straightforward in government. Senate lawmakers are considering a provision in the 2016 Defense authorization bill that would make performance the only factor officials need consider when conducting a reduction in force. But House Democrats and some labor groups aren’t happy about it.

“Current law requires agencies to consider following four factors: tenure, veterans’ status, length of service and performance ratings. We believe all four of these factors are important and should be preserved,” a dozen Democrats wrote in a letter to the chairmen and ranking members of the House and Senate Armed Services Committees July 15.

The lawmakers view two other provisions in the 2016 National Defense Authorization Act (H.R. 1735) as hostile to federal workers as well. One would extend the probationary period of new employees from one year to two and give the military departments authority to extend the probationary period indefinitely. The other would delay automatic pay increases for poor performers.

“Since employees have fewer civil service protections during the probationary...

Cuts to TSP, a Deeper Look at Low Morale and More

In a move that is getting old, lawmakers are once again looking at cuts in federal employees’ benefits as a way to offset increased spending in other areas. This time, the potential target is the Thrift Savings Plan’s government securities (G) fund.

Senators are looking for ways to finance a long-term extension of highway and transit funding, and while they had not officially endorsed particular cost-cutting proposals as of mid-day Wednesday, the National Association of Active and Retired Federal Employees was concerned about reports that a change in the rate of return on TSP’s G Fund was on the table.

“At a time when federal employees, retirees, job seekers and their families are reeling from news that their most personal information and financial data has been compromised, it is unconscionable that this very constituency would be targeted for cuts to pay for completely unrelated legislation,” NARFE National President Richard Thissen wrote in a July 14 letter to senators.

A similar change was proposed in an early version of the House Budget Resolution but later dropped, NARFE noted in the letter. “It should be discarded again,” the group stated.

Aside from hitting federal workers when they are already down...

Big Changes in Overtime Pay, Maternity Leave and More

Last week, Navy Secretary Ray Mabus tripled maternity leave for women in the Navy and Marine Corps from 6 weeks to 18 weeks.

“Meaningful maternity leave when it matters most is one of the best ways that we can support the women who serve our county. This flexibility is an investment in our people and our Services, and a safeguard against losing skilled service members,” Mabus said.

The Defense Department allows the service secretaries to designate additional “convalescent leave” in excess of 30 days, authority Mabus exercised in expanding time off for mothers. The new policy, effective immediately, applies retroactively to any woman who has been authorized maternity leave following the birth of a child since the beginning of the year. According to the Navy: “A mother does not need to take all of her leave at once; however, she is only entitled to the use of this type of leave within one year of her child’s birth.”

Also last week, President Obama announced he was taking executive action to make more lower-income, white-collar workers eligible for overtime compensation. The initiative, once finalized, could benefit hundreds of thousands of federal employees.

According to data from the Office of Personnel...