How Obamacare Could Lead to Better, Cheaper FEHBP Coverage

Keeping federal employees healthy is in the nation’s best interest, OPM director tells insurance providers.

The 2010 Affordable Care Act will improve coverage while lowering costs for the 8.2 million workers, retirees and dependents participating in the federal employee health care program, an Obama administration official said Thursday.

Office of Personnel Management Director Katherine Archuleta told attendees of the annual Carrier Conference that the 2010 law has already helped keep health care premium growth for federal employees at less than 4 percent for three consecutive years, the first time it has been that low in 20 years. Archuleta also stressed that the law’s emphasis on preventative care will improve the plans  in the Federal Employees Health Benefits Program, the “original marketplace” that served as a model for Obamacare.

Last week, OPM sent a “call letter” to all FEHBP providers that spelled out mandatory changes to comply with the Affordable Care Act, as well as other expectations for 2015 offerings. The Obamacare requirements included setting out-of-pocket maximums for certain health care expenses and covering habilitation -- when individuals need to acquire skills for the first time after receiving medical treatment.

Making these improvments while reining in costs will help the federal government recruit and retain employees, Archuleta said.

“When we are recruiting that scientist who will find better ways to protect the air we breathe and the water we drink, when we talk to the engineer who will discover the newest technology to produce clean, reusable energy, when we are recruiting the researcher who will find the next cure for cancer,” the OPM director told the crowd, “we can assure them that, included in their federal benefits, is affordable health insurance on par with any other employer, coverage that will give them access to high-quality care.”

Archuleta noted that Obamacare has already benefited FEHBP enrollees: 325,000 children of federal employees have taken advantage of a provision that allows individuals to stay on their parents’ plan until age 26.

The carrier conference kicks off negotiations between OPM and insurance carriers for the costs and benefits of plans that will be offered to federal employees in 2015. Archuleta said in light of furloughs, sequestration and a minimal pay raise following a three-year freeze, it is important now more than ever to control and lower health care costs. Additionally, as the nation’s largest employer-sponsored health insurance plan, better treatment for FEHBP enrollees benefits the entire country.

“The healthier that federal workers are, the less as a nation we will spend on health care,” she said. “We at OPM have a responsibility to make sure that our consumers are getting quality and value for their premium dollars.”

As highlighted in the call letter, Archuleta said more federal workers should be involved in wellness programs.

“We need to work together on this,” Archuleta told the providers. “In the coming year, I urge you to look at your programs and to work with us to come up with the incentives, the processes and the innovations that will encourage our employees to take advantage of your programs.”

Carriers must submit all benefit and rate proposals to OPM by May 31. 

(Image via lenetstan/Shutterstock.com)