Higher Medicare Premiums, New Fertility Benefits, Back Pay Calculator and More

A weekly roundup of pay and benefits news.

Are you owed back pay from the government? The Office of Personnel Management has created a handy calculator to help agencies calculate the correct amount along with any interest owed. The tools is designed (with step-by-step instructions) to assist agency human resources and finance offices determine payment of back pay, interest and reasonable attorney fees when employees are found to have been affected by an unwarranted personnel action that affected their pay.

OPM issued a fact sheet that includes guidance to agencies, links to the new back pay calculator and a list of back pay interest rates.

In case you haven’t heard, Election Day is Nov. 8. The Defense Department is reminding overseas personnel that they should submit absentee ballots as soon as possible if they plan to vote in the November presidential election. You need to know the voting requirements in your state:

Each state sets its own deadlines for registering to vote and its options for how absentee ballots are sent to voters. States can also differ in their requirements and deadlines regarding how to complete and submit absentee ballots. Some states require ballots to be postmarked by Election Day while others must receive ballots by Election Day. FVAP.gov has your state’s deadlines and requirements.

If you don’t know how the rules apply to your situation, the Federal Voter Assistance Program can help. FVAP is a Defense Department organization that helps service members, eligible family members and overseas citizens exercise their right to vote by providing information and resources. Voters can contact FVAP’s call center at 1-800- 438-VOTE (8683), DSN 425-1584 or at vote@fvap.gov. Toll-free phone numbers from 67 countries are listed at the FVAP website. Find FVAP on Facebook at facebook.com/DoDFVAP and follow @FVAP on Twitter.

On the benefits front, nearly 30 percent of Medicare Part B beneficiaries are slated to see premium increases in 2017, according to the 2016 Medicare Trustees Report. That has dozens of professional associations and labor groups, including many that represent public employees, urging Congress to take action to mitigate the impact.

In a letter to key lawmakers in both parties, the groups noted:

“It is estimated that 2017 Part B premiums could increase to an estimated $149 per month, which is a significant increase over the standard 2016 Part B premium of $121 per month. The trustees also predict that this increase will be accompanied by a hike in the Part B deductible—up to $204 from $166. A predicted nominal Cost-of-Living Adjustment (COLA) for Social Security recipients in 2017 (as low as 0.2 percent), leading to the application of the hold harmless provision in the Social Security Act, contributes to these projected increases in Part B premiums and the deductible.”

That’s because the hold harmless provision would limit the premium increase to an amount equal to the dollar increase in an individual’s Social Security benefit.

“Should the trustees’ assumptions hold, roughly 70 percent of Medicare beneficiaries will be held harmless, while the remaining 30 percent will shoulder the cost of the expected premium increase,” the letter said. New Medicare enrollees; individuals not collecting Social Security benefits; and beneficiaries already paying higher, income-related premiums will be most affected.

The group is urging lawmakers to act quickly following the announcement of the 2017 COLA to avert the spike in out-of-pocket costs for Medicare beneficiaries in 2017.

Congress passed and president Obama signed HR 5325, which authorizes the Veterans Affairs Department to provide fertility counseling, adoption reimbursement, and assisted reproductive technology services (such as in vitro fertilization) to veterans who have sustained service related injuries that have impaired their fertility—care that is currently available to active duty troops. 

“Fixing this gap in coverage for our veterans has been a major goal of ASRM and the highest priority for our advocacy efforts,” said the American Society for Reproductive Medicine in a statement. ASRM worked collectively with RESOLVE: The National Infertility Association and a coalition of veterans organizations to advocate for the coverage for wounded veterans. 

ASRM said it would work with VA leadership to implement the program, noting that “every indication we have had is that our colleagues at the VA are as anxious as we are to make this service available to our veterans.” But not every lawmaker was anxious to provide it. The group said, “As this measure wound its way through Congress, we saw efforts to derail and defund it and related programs,” and they’ll be on the lookout for any efforts to undo the new law. 

The Defense Department, the General Services Administration and NASA are adopting as final, with changes, an interim rule amending the Federal Acquisition Regulation to revise cost limits relative to the compensation of contractors and subcontractors. The rule, which took effect Sept. 30, was required by the 2013 Bipartisan Budget Act and aims to ensure agencies are able to hire needed scientists, engineers and other skilled specialists. For more detailed information, see the Federal Register announcement.

And finally, do you have a role in your agency’s supervisory training program? If so, OPM wants your input in a survey that aims to assess and improve such programs. The Web-based survey was prompted by a Government Accountability report that found better supervision during the probationary period was needed to deal with poorly-performing employees.