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Key developments in the world of federal employee benefits: health, pay, and much more.

Reminders and check-ins

Tie a string around your finger, write a note on the back of your hand or put a sticky note on your computer screen. Here's a quick rundown of some pay and benefits concerns that you won't want to forget. TSP Contributions Want more money stowed away in your Thrift Savings Plan account? Now's the time to do it. The TSP open season, which began Nov. 15, runs through Jan. 31. After Jan. 31, you won't be able to change the amount of money you contribute from each paycheck to the TSP until May, when the next open season starts. Back in April, Pay and Benefits Watch reviewed the key issues worth considering when making decisions about TSP contributions. (See Understanding TSP Contributions, April 12.) You can still use the procedures in that column, but remember that the contribution limits will be higher in 2002. Federal Employees Retirement System enrollees will be able to contribute as much as 12 percent of their basic pay per pay period, up to the annual IRS limit of $11,000. Civil Service Retirement System enrollees will be able to contribute as much as 7 percent of their basic pay per pay period, up to the annual IRS limit of $11,000. (Next week's column will be devoted to TSP issues, by the way, so if you have any questions, send them in!) Health Insurance There are only a few more days left to change your health insurance coverage for next year. Many federal employees felt sticker shock when they found out how much their insurance premiums are going up next year. The Federal Employees Health Benefits Program open season runs until Dec. 10. Premium information, previous health insurance articles and links to the Office of Personnel Management's health insurance materials are in's Open Season Guide. Christmas Eve President Bush today gave federal workers the day off on Christmas Eve. For more information, see the breaking news story: Bush gives feds the day off on Christmas Eve. And don't forget to download's Leave Calculator or Leave Calendar for 2002. You can learn more about them in the Nov. 15 Pay and Benefits Watch. Longstanding Lawsuits The dispute over back pay for federal employees who received special rate pay in the 1980s marks its 20th anniversary in January. The National Treasury Employees Union and the Justice Department are continuing to work out the details of a settlement for an estimated 200,000 current and former federal workers who were paid on special salary schedules from 1982 to 1988. The latest news: the two parties are scheduled to appear in court on Dec. 18 to provide an update on their progress toward an agreement. Such appearances have been postponed several times this year, but NTEU President Colleen Kelley says the two sides are "moving toward finality in their negotiations." Meanwhile, no official court action has been taken this year in an overtime pay case brought by Justice Department attorneys. Some lawmakers and attorney groups have put pressure on Attorney General John Ashcroft to resolve the DOJ lawyers' push for overtime pay, but so far, there's no resolution. Long-Term Care Insurance Itching for federal long-term care insurance? Looks like you won't have to wait until October 2002 to get it. While the Office of Personnel Management has yet to announce the contract holder for the long-term care insurance program, OPM officials say there will be an early enrollment period in February or March. The early enrollment period will be for people who know all about long-term care insurance and know they want it. Early enrollees won't be able to have premiums deducted automatically from their paychecks until after the official launch of the program in late summer or early fall of 2002. That's when OPM will conduct an education campaign on the new benefit. Long-term care insurance covers services in nursing homes and chronic or extended illnesses that are not covered by standard health insurance. OPM expects to offer long-term care insurance at rates 15 to 20 percent lower than the premiums available in the general market. For a look at the limits of long-term care insurance, see the July 19 Pay and Benefits Watch.

Brian Friel is founder of One Nation Analytics, an independent research, analytics and consulting firm for the federal market.

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