Pay & Benefits Watch Pay & Benefits WatchPay & Benefits Watch
Key developments in the world of federal employee benefits: health, pay, and much more.

Health Care Choices, Retirement Savings Safeguards, Faster Holiday Travel and More

Open season officially started this week, giving federal workers an opportunity to rethink their health care and flexible spending account benefits.  For some, the choices may seem daunting. But for at least one group of employees, the options are underwhelming.  The advocacy group Human Rights Campaign on Monday noted that only three Federal Employees Health Benefits Program providers – AETNA, Kaiser Permanente and the Foreign Service Benefit Plan -- will offer transition related coverage for transgender feds.

HRC urged the Office of Personnel Management to go beyond its June notification to FEHBP carriers that such coverage was no longer banned. Providers should be required to offer it, the group said.   

“Transgender federal employees deserve full and equal benefits, and these changes in coverage are simply inadequate,” said David Stacy, government affairs director for HRC. “We are deeply disappointed in not only the scope of coverage, but also the number of providers who will be providing transition related care.”

Those federal employees who are lucky enough to have a range of FEHBP plans that do meet their health care needs might want to consider shopping around. As Retirement Planning columnist Tammy Flanagan noted last week, “open season can be an opportunity to put ...

Hazardous Housing, Thanksgiving Hardship, Health Insurance Changes and More

Home may be where your heart is, but if you happen to be one of the 28,500 troops stationed in South Korea, your home is also quite possibly a mold-ridden, radon-emitting fire hazard one spark away from total annihilation. That’s not exactly how the Defense Department’s deputy inspector general put it in his housing inspection report, but that was the upshot.

The Pentagon IG’s office inspected 12 percent of housing at 13 U.S. military installations in the Republic of Korea earlier this year and found hundreds of code violations, a number of which endangered troops and their families.

In his report to the Army and Air Force, Randolph Stone, deputy inspector general for policy and oversight, catalogued a range of problems, some requiring urgent action because of the safety threat they posed.

In one case, a building wasn’t electrically grounded because the building electrode was disconnected from the main water pipe. “This created an electrocution hazard to anyone in contact with the equipment,” the report said.

Buildings at three installations had fossil fuel burning equipment but no carbon monoxide alarms, which was especially dangerous because “soot build-up on surfaces and around vent flue joints ...

Open Season Workshop, TRICARE Blunder, Telework and More

Oops. The Air Force mistakenly told about 1,000 airmen who voluntarily left the service recently that they’d get six months of extended TRICARE health benefits. Turns out that’s not the case.

The problem occurred when officials failed to correctly update the database of eligible TRICARE enrollees, the Air Force Times reported. Some airmen have apparently been using the health benefits for some time, and are now worried they’ll be billed for benefits they thought were covered.

The Air Force issued a statement Oct. 16 saying it would work directly with the affected airmen to address the problem, but some airman told the newspaper that hasn’t happened yet. The only information one former service member has is “just what has been floating around the Internet,” the Air Force Times reported.

Speaking of health benefits, it’s open season time and at least one lawmaker wants to help you out. On Saturday, Nov. 15, Rep. Gerry Connolly is hosting a workshop to help Washington area feds and retirees “navigate through the many changes in the 2015 Federal Employees Health Benefits plans, dental and vision insurance programs, and flexible spending accounts.”

Says the Virginia Democrat: “Many FEHB plans ...

Health Care Scam, Scholarships, Flu Shots and More

It’s that time of year. Americans lose 17 million workdays to the flu annually; the Office of Personnel Management doesn’t want you to be one of them. OPM Director Katherine Archuleta sent a memo to agency heads earlier this month urging all feds to get a flu shot. Many agencies offer them onsite at no or low cost. Even if your office doesn’t offer flu shots, that’s no excuse. “Most FEHB plans cover flu shots at pharmacies and retail stores in addition to doctor’s offices and clinics.  As a plus, the whole family can be immunized at these locations,” Archuleta notes.

In addition to urging flu shots, managers should review telework programs, employee contact information and contingency operation plans, just in case. And by all means, encourage frequent hand washing and remind sick employees to stay home, Archuleta said.

Beware Medicare ‘Vendor’ Calls

Don’t fall for a caller claiming to represent a Medicare vendor who wants to send you a back brace, Defense officials are warning TRICARE beneficiaries.

“The caller may have specific information that makes the call seem official, typically your address, phone numbers and doctor’s name. The caller is hoping this ...

Some Defense Travelers Will Have Their Per Diem Rates Cut

The Defense Department is reducing per diem allowances for employees on extended travel to save money, but several lawmakers and at least one union aren’t happy about it.

The department has proposed that beginning Nov. 1, employees on government travel to one location for more than 30 days receive a flat per diem rate. For each full day during long-term TDY of 31 to 180 days, the rate would be 75 percent of the locality rate (lodging plus meals and incidentals); for travel lasting more than 180 days, it would fall to 55 percent of the locality rate for each full day.

Another change, which requires incidental travel expenses to now include laundry, baggage tips and ATM fees rather than being treated as separate, reimbursable items, took effect on Oct. 1. That new policy also requires certain expenses, including cell phone use, to be treated as “mission-related” rather than “travel-related” and paid for outside the travel system. The incidental expense per diem is $5.

Congress and the Obama administration have told agencies they need to cut travel costs, so it perhaps should not be a surprise that Defense came up with this proposal. Still, Republicans and Democrats on Capitol ...