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

Doing the Math on Unpaid Leave


Government furloughs because of sequestration have been news for the better part of a year. Lately, we’ve heard a lot about federal employees who’ve been granted a reprieve this fiscal year at least from the unpaid leave ax, but there are still many agency workers who haven’t been so lucky.

The number of furlough days for affected feds ranges, at the moment, from one to 14 depending on the individual agency’s budget situation. That means thousands, possibly hundreds of thousands, of feds will take home less pay -- how much less depends on several factors and how you do the math. For example, if a federal employee has to take seven furlough days between the first week of June and Sept. 30, the end of the fiscal year, they’d face about an 8.3 percent pay cut, give or take. You divide the number of furlough days (seven) by the number of work days left in the fiscal year for most feds between June and September (about 84). Using that rough estimate, an employee earning an annual salary of $50,000 would lose about $1,400 in gross pay over four months.

It should come as no surprise that someone already has created a furlough “calculator” based on a Microsoft Excel spreadsheet. Federal employees can calculate with astonishing precision how a furlough will affect the size of their paycheck. John Wedding, who blogs about saving and investing money in his blog Mighty Bargain Hunter, received a comment to his post from Dan about budgeting for a furlough. Voila, a furlough calculator was devised. Check out the post and the link to the calculator here. Judge its accuracy for yourself.


TRICARE is temporarily waiving the authorization requirement for some enrollees referred for specialty care because of processing delays by the contractor.

The waiver, which extends from April 1 to May 18 for referrals or care, affects TRICARE West Region Prime enrollees spread out over 21 states. Since the new contractor, UnitedHealthcare Military & Veterans, took over for TriWest Healthcare Alliance on April 1, there have been referral and authorization delays as well as a high volume of phone calls and inquiries to the company’s call center and website.

Affected enrollees should ask their primary care manager for a paper copy of their referral for specialty care and a copy of a waiver letter from UnitedHealthcare. Enrollees also can download the letter from the provider section of The waiver does not apply to beneficiaries using TRICARE Standard or TRICARE for Life or Prime enrollees with the US Family Health Plan.

“TMA officials are working closely with UnitedHealthcare to address issues, reduce backlogs and ensure beneficiaries get the quality health care and service they deserve,” said a statement from the TRICARE Management Activity, which administers the health care plan for 9.6 million service members, their dependents and retirees.

“UnitedHealthcare has committed the full resources of the company -- at all levels and in all areas -- to provide beneficiaries, care providers and Military Treatment Facilities with high-quality service and support,” said Lori McDougal, UnitedHealthcare Military & Veterans CEO. “We understand issues have arisen that need immediate improvement, and we are taking aggressive actions to fix them. We sincerely apologize for any delay in services that TRICARE beneficiaries and care providers are experiencing as a result of these challenges.”

Kellie Lunney covers federal pay and benefits issues, the budget process and financial management. After starting her career in journalism at Government Executive in 2000, she returned in 2008 after four years at sister publication National Journal writing profiles of influential Washingtonians. In 2006, she received a fellowship at the Ohio State University through the Kiplinger Public Affairs in Journalism program, where she worked on a project that looked at rebuilding affordable housing in Mississippi after Hurricane Katrina. She has appeared on C-SPAN’s Washington Journal, NPR and Feature Story News, where she participated in a weekly radio roundtable on the 2008 presidential campaign. In the late 1990s, she worked at the Housing and Urban Development Department as a career employee. She is a graduate of Colgate University.

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