In 2022, the Government Accountability Office issued a report finding that the federal government needs to do more to ensure enrollees in the Federal Employees Health Benefits Program.

In 2022, the Government Accountability Office issued a report finding that the federal government needs to do more to ensure enrollees in the Federal Employees Health Benefits Program. Sarah Silbiger/Getty Images

House panel advances bills to improve FEHBP oversight and fix CBP retirement snafu

A 2022 Government Accountability Office report estimated that ineligible family members covered through the federal government’s employer-sponsored health care program could cost the government between $250 million and $3 billion per year.

Updated at 5:37 p.m. ET

The House Oversight and Accountability Committee on Wednesday advanced legislation aimed at preventing improper payments in the employer-sponsored health insurance program for federal workers, as well as to ensure roughly 1,200 U.S. Customs and Border Protection officers receive the enhanced retirement benefits they were promised.

In 2022, the Government Accountability Office issued a report finding that the federal government needs to do more to ensure enrollees in the Federal Employees Health Benefits Program, which provides health insurance to roughly 8 million federal employees, retirees and their families, are eligible for the benefits.

Although the Office of Personnel Management in recent years has issued guidance instructing agencies and insurance carriers to verify the eligibility of family members, GAO argued that the agency should do more, such as its own monitoring program or audit, something OPM has argued is too cost-prohibitive with its current resources. The OPM inspector general has speculated that FEHBP could be improperly providing benefits within the range of $500 million to $3 billion annually.

The FEHB Protection Act (H.R. 7868), introduced by Rep. Michael Waltz, R-Fla., requires federal agencies to verify the eligibility of family members of federal workers for the program, i.e. that spouses are married to the employee and children are under the age of 26. It also requires OPM to conduct an audit of the current insure rolls to ensure their continued eligibility, as well as for OPM to incorporate a review of the issue as part of its fraud risk assessment of FEHBP.

“It is unfortunate that OPM is still unable to ensure that employing offices are executing basic verification requirements, and it’s unacceptable,” Waltz said Wednesday. “The American people deserve to know that the tax dollars they earn are spent appropriately and free from fraud and waste.”

Rep. Jamie Raskin, D-Md., the committee’s ranking member, sought unsuccessfully to amend the bill to include language that would authorize additional funding go to OPM to cover the cost of the audit, but Committee Chairman James Comer, R-Ky., expressed a willingness to amend the bill before it reaches the House floor authorizing a specific dollar figure, based on analysis from the Congressional Budget Office. The CBO does not “score” legislation until it has advanced out of committee.

In a statement, OPM said that it is committed to ensuring FEHBP is administered efficiently and preventing improper payments.

"OPM remains committed to address improper enrollments in the FEHB program and finding solutions within our current resources," an agency spokesperson said. "We continue to emphasize to Congress that additional investment is required to support our efforts to reduce waste, fraud and abuse within the FEHB program and hte critical role that agencies and carriers play in this effort."

The bill advanced by a 37-6 vote.

Fixing a CBP Retirement Foul-up

The panel also voted unanimously to advance legislation aimed at fixing a more than decade-old mistake by U.S. Customs and Border Protection that misled around 1,200 CBP officers about their retirement benefits.

In 2008, CBP implemented a law making CBP officers eligible for enhanced retirement benefits to make up for the fact that they are required to retire at age 57, provided that they have 20 years of service and make larger retirement contributions. The law set up a transitional system for those hired before July 6, 2008, which provides the enhanced retirement annuity rate despite the fact that they would not have reached 20 years of service before their mandatory retirement rate.

But the agency mistakenly told officers who were given job offers before July 6, 2008 but did not start work until afterward that they also would be eligible for the enhanced benefits. It wasn’t until 2020 that CBP realized its mistake and rescinded those enhanced benefits, despite the fact that those 1,200 employees had paid more from their paychecks toward their Federal Employees Retirement System annuity than they otherwise would have for over a decade.

The U.S. Customs and Border Protection Officer Retirement Corrections Act (H.R. 7869), introduced by Rep. Ryan Fitzpatrick, R-Pa., would restore those enhanced benefits to CBP officers affected by their agency’s mistake.

“Since these officers planned their retirement, their lives and careers around incorrect guidance given to them by CBP, this bill corrects the misunderstanding by providing the enhanced benefits to this small group in the same way as existing officers, as they were told at the time,” Comer said. “It also directs GAO to report on the proper management of this benefit to prevent similar mistakes from occurring in the future.”

Both bills may now head to the floor for consideration by the full House.