How Your Benefits Have Changed Recently

To address the effects of the coronavirus pandemic, the government has loosened restrictions on several federal employee benefits programs.

Keeping track of all of the COVID-19-related changes that affect federal employee benefits has been no easy task this summer. There have been changes to the Federal Flexible Spending Account Program, the Thrift Savings Plan, the Federal Employees Health Benefits Program and leave rules.

Here’s a rundown of some of the most significant modifications and flexibilities:

Federal Employees Health Benefits Program

Your FEHBP plan provides the following benefits in support of providing care for COVID-19 under requirements of the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act:

  • No prior authorizations needed for diagnostic tests and covered services
  • No cost share for diagnostic tests or treatment
  • No refill limits or cost share for prescriptions
  • No copays for telehealth services provided by Teladoc

Federal Flexible Spending Account Program

Until Aug. 28 (the end of a 60-day period that started July 1), you do not need a qualifying life event to increase or decrease your election to your Health Care Flexible Spending Account (HCFSA), Limited Expense Health Care Flexible Spending Account (LEX HCFSA) or Dependent Care Flexible Spending Account (DCFSA). Keep in mind, you will not be able to decrease your election below what has already been allotted to your FSA account or the amount that has already been reimbursed from your account. The maximum limits of $2,750 for the HCFSA and LEXFSA and the $5,000 DCFSA limits have not changed.

If you made a DCFSA election for the plan year that ended on Dec. 31, 2019, you will now be permitted to incur eligible expenses and claim any 2019 funds remaining in the account until Dec. 31, 2020, because the normal March 15 grace period has been extended.

The carryover limit for HCFSA and LEXFSA has permanently increased to $550 for 2021 for funds remaining at the end of 2020. It is required that you re-enroll for 2021 to be entitled to carry over funds to the new year.

Also, certain over-the-counter drugs and medications and feminine products—defined as tampons, pads, liners, cups, sponges, or similar products used for menstruation—count as expenses incurred for medical care, meaning you can use funds in your HSA or FSA to purchase them.

Thrift Savings Plan

Under the CARES Act, participants in the TSP are eligible to take advantage of enhanced access to withdrawals and loans. Eligibility is based on a diagnosis of COVID-19 by yourself or a dependent, or the experience of adverse financial consequences as a result of quarantine, furlough, reduction in hours or layoff due to the disease.

You can suspend your obligation to make payments on your TSP loan or loans for the rest of calendar year 2020. This applies to existing loans and loans taken between now and Nov. 30, 2020. To apply, use Form TSP-46.

The maximum amount of loans for participants affected by COVID-19 has been increased from $50,000 to $100,000, or from 50% of your available balance to 100% of your available balance. You must apply by Sept. 22. 

You can make a one-time withdrawal of up to $100,000 from a civilian or uniformed services account. This includes those who are still in federal service, regardless of age. The deadline for applying for this withdrawal is Dec. 15. When you apply for this withdrawal, you are self-certifying that you meet the coronavirus-related conditions.

For qualified individuals taking coronavirus-related distributions, the IRS will waive the 10% additional tax on early distributions. You also can spread the taxable income over a three-year period, starting with the year in which you receive your distribution.

Annual and Sick Leave

The Office of Personnel Management announced in June that it “plans to issue regulations in the near future that will streamline the leave restoration process for agencies that have employees with ‘use or lose’ annual leave who are unable to use this leave because of work-related requirements related to the COVID-19 national emergency. The regulations will deem the COVID-19 national emergency to be an exigency of the public business for the purpose of restoring forfeited annual leave.” 

The Emergency Paid Sick Leave Act provides employees with up to two weeks of paid sick leave through Dec. 31, 2020, in certain circumstances related to COVID-19. This leave is in addition to any other paid leave entitlements.