M. Trubee / Flickr user NPCA Photos

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House Panel Advances Bills to Protect Feds’ Insurance During Shutdowns

Legislation would ensure that workers can adjust health benefits following significant life events and prevent their dental, vision and long-term care coverage from lapsing.

A House panel on Wednesday advanced by voice vote two measures intended to protect federal employees’ health insurance coverage during government shutdowns.

The House Oversight and Reform Committee approved both the Ensuring FEHBP Coverage During Shutdowns Act (H.R. 2003) and the Ensuring FEDVIP and FLTCIP Coverage During Shutdowns Act (H.R. 2004) with bipartisan support. Committee Chairman Rep. Elijah Cummings, D-Md., introduced both bills after reports of problems from federal workers regarding their health coverage during the 35-day partial government shutdown earlier this year.

The bill adjusting the Federal Employees Health Benefits Program would deem activities related to the administration of the program to be excepted from furloughs during a shutdown. Cummings said the measure is intended to address the inability of federal workers to make changes to their coverage following a significant life event during a lapse in appropriations.

“A furloughed federal employee [during the last shutdown said] their baby was born on New Year’s Eve, 10 weeks early, but the only hospital that could handle them was not in network,” Cummings said. “They could not change their insurance following a qualified life event because those government services were closed due to the shutdown. H.R. 2003 would ensure that employees who experience a qualifying life event such as a birth or adoption could immediately enroll dependents on their FEHBP plan even if the government is shut down.”

The bill also would allow life insurance-related transactions to occur regardless of whether the government is shut down.

The second bill would protect federal employees from the threat that their vision, dental or long-term care insurance could lapse during a protracted shutdown. Under current law, if a federal employee is furloughed for two consecutive pay periods, insurance providers in the Federal Employees Dental and Vision Insurance Program and the Federal Long Term Care Insurance Program will begin billing workers directly, and may suspend their coverage for nonpayment.

“H.R. 2004 would ensure that employees’ dental and vision benefits and long-term care insurance coverage would continue during any period that the government is shut down,” Cummings said.

Both bills now go to the House floor for a vote. They each have companion bills pending in the Senate, although there has been no action since their introduction.

(Image via M. Trubee / Flickr user NPCA Photos)