Lawmakers sponsor bill to allow earlier FEHBP enrollment for adult kids

Legislation would extend coverage to unmarried dependents during 2010.

A group of Democratic lawmakers on Tuesday introduced legislation that would allow the Office of Personnel Management to extend insurance coverage to more adult children of federal employees during 2010.

"This coverage would be particularly helpful to dependent children about to graduate from trade school, college or university who could have difficulty finding employment with health benefits in the present unfavorable job market," said Margaret Baptiste, president of the National Active and Retired Federal Employees Association.

As part of the health care reform legislation President Obama signed in March, insurance companies now are required to cover the unmarried adult children of FEHBP enrollees until they turn 26, effective the first day of a new insurance plan year after Sept. 23. Current plans have to cover such dependents only until age 22. Many health insurance providers have said they will begin extending coverage to adult children earlier. But OPM has maintained the law means they cannot extend such coverage until Jan.1, 2011, the first day of the new FEHBP year after Sept. 23, 2010.

But the FEHBP Dependent Coverage Extension Act, sponsored by Reps. Chris Van Hollen, D-Md.; Gerry Connelly, D-Va.; Kathy Dahlkemper, D-Pa.; and Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton, D-D.C., would amend the laws governing FEHBP so employees could continue to add coverage for their adult children who qualify under the new guidelines during the current year's plan.

In its guidelines on health care reform, OPM said, "we are eager to provide coverage to young adults prior to Jan. 1," and cited current law as the only obstacle, suggesting the agency is likely to support the legislation.

National Treasury Employees Union President Colleen Kelley said a number of the union's members had asked her about whether the government would allow them to enroll their adult children as soon as insurance companies were prepared to cover them. American Federation of Government Employees Legislative Director Beth Moten said Van Hollen had "once again shown federal employees his unwavering support and exhibited his understanding of the burdens that young people face while making the transition into the working world."