OPM Withdraws Proposed Rule on Health Care Premiums for Some Feds

Proposal would have required employees on unpaid leave to continuing paying monthly premiums.

On the eve of open enrollment for 2018, the Office of Personnel Management announced that it is withdrawing a proposed rule that would have required some federal employees to keep paying their health insurance premiums when they are on unpaid leave.

The period during which federal employees can elect to change their insurance package under the Federal Employees Health Benefits Program began Monday, and will run until Dec. 11. Last month, OPM announced that feds can expect to contribute an average of 6.1 percent more toward their premiums in 2018.

In a filing on the Federal Register Nov. 3, OPM cited comments from employees, agencies and federal employee unions as a prime factor in canceling the rule. Currently, agencies generally pay for the entirety of FEHBP premiums for employees on leave without pay. Employees then repay their portion of the insurance contribution when they return to work.

A majority of comments said the proposal allowing agencies to require employees on unpaid leave to continue paying monthly FEHBP premiums would put an undue financial burden on federal workers. And commenters also noted that the rule could have a pronounced impact on permanent seasonal employees, who are placed in a “nonpay status” every year.

“In reviewing these objections, OPM attempted to determine whether potential cost savings from this proposed rulemaking outweigh the negative impact asserted by commenters,” wrote acting OPM Director Kathleen McGettigan. “To estimate cost savings, OPM requested the current amount of unrecoverable premium debt form employees on LWOP and nonpay status from several agencies with large numbers of temporary, seasonal and intermittent employees. However, these agencies were generally unable to provide this data.”

Given that agencies are already required to comply with the 1996 Debt Collection Improvement Act, which includes provisions to collect delinquent FEHBP debt, OPM determined potential cost savings from the rule would not “outweigh the potential negative impact” the rule might have on federal employees placed on unpaid leave.

The American Federation of Government Employees applauded OPM’s decision in a statement Monday.

“This rule change would have imposed a huge financial burden on employees who are on leave without pay status,” an AFGE official said. “AFGE opposed this rule change from the beginning and we are pleased that OPM reversed course when faced with overwhelming opposition from employees, agencies and unions.”