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

Changes to the Federal Health Insurance Program, Agency Leader Cuts His Own Pay, and More

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Enrollees in the health insurance program for federal employees could see some additional options available to them during the next open enrollment period next fall.

The Office of Personnel Management published a rule last week in the Federal Register standardizing how many and what kinds of plans any given insurance carrier can offer through the Federal Employees Health Benefits Program.

Under previous regulations, the minimum standards for plans offered through FEHBP required that some insurance companies provide two options as well as a high deductible plan, whereas other companies were able to choose between offering that configuration or providing three plans of any kind.

The new rule, which went into effect April 27, allows all FEHBP insurance companies to choose between offering three plans of any kind and providing two standard options and a high deductible plan.

“To correct an asymmetry in the insurance market for federal employees and annuitants, this final regulation provides all [FEHBP] carriers the ability to offer the same number and types of plan options,” OPM wrote. “[This] final rule will give FEHB enrollees more choices in selecting a health plan that best meets their family’s health care needs.”

Meanwhile on Monday, OPM announced the roll-out of the 2018 Federal Employee Viewpoint Survey, which is available now for all eligible federal employees. The poll offers federal career full-time and part-time employees the chance to provide feedback regarding their pay and benefits, engagement in their jobs as well as the performance of agency managers and leaders.

In a blog post on OPM’s website, Director Jeff Pon stressed the importance of FEVS in helping leaders to improve their agencies’ performance, workplace policies and morale. In recent years, although governmentwide engagement as measured by FEVS has increased, the level of participation in the survey has steadily declined.

“All levels of leadership have access to FEVS reports and are urged to use results to inform decisions for agency development,” Pon wrote. “As you can see, your input today can have lasting benefits for your own agency, as well as the performance of the entire executive branch.”

A new element of this year’s survey will be a “follow-on pilot survey,” which Pon said will be an effort to improve FEVS itself.

“The pilot is intended to help us to modernize the FEVS by testing new topics and improvements to the FEVS,” he wrote. “Our goal is to ensure delivery of the best, most responsive information possible to your leadership and federal decision makers.”

Over at the Health and Human Services Department, one agency leader has agreed to a pay cut, after a senator questioned his level of compensation.

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Director Dr. Robert Redfield agreed to reduce his pay after just five weeks on the job. A former HIV research director at the University of Maryland, Redfield was initially granted an annual salary of $375,000, substantially more than what his predecessors were paid and more than several Cabinet secretaries.

Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., last week wrote to HHS Secretary Alex Azar seeking information about the reasoning for the high salary, granted under a law designed to help agencies attract top scientists and other technical specialists.

Redfield’s new salary has not yet been made public, but his predecessor Brenda Fitzgerald was paid $197,300 per year before she resigned in January, and Tom Friedman made $219,000 in the post. With bonuses, Redfield most recently made more than $750,000 per year at the University of Maryland.

Erich Wagner is a staff correspondent covering pay, benefits and other federal workforce issues. He joined Government Executive in the spring of 2017 after extensive experience writing about state and local issues in Maryland and Virginia, most recently as editor-in-chief of the Alexandria Times. He holds a bachelor's degree in journalism from the University of Maryland.

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