- The Washington Times - Monday, August 2, 2004

Federal and postal workers and retired feds should keep an eye on Sen. John Kerry’s plan to give more people affordable health insurance by putting them in the Federal Employee Health Benefits Program.

The program covers more than 9 million people, including current and retired feds and the spouses, dependents and many ex-spouses of active and retired civil servants. The coverage is for life, and there are no restrictions because of age, health or pre-existing medical conditions. Older enrollees with medical problems pay the same premiums as young, healthy workers in the group plan.

Regardless of how much premiums increase each year — and they have been rising slower than counterpart private-sector plans — the government pays about 72 percent of the total premium.

The program is considered so good that many former politicians seek out federal appointments so they can remain in the program and qualify for it when they retire.

The program also covers current and retired members of Congress and their families. They pay the same premiums as rank-and-file federal workers in the same plans, but have an added perk in that they can get medical services at the VIP wings of Walter Reed Army Hospital and the National Naval Medical Center in Bethesda.

Mr. Kerry, the Democratic presidential nominee, strikes a strong populist note when he says Americans without health care coverage deserve the same protection as members of Congress.

But for feds, the issue is what a massive influx of outsiders — many of whom might be otherwise uninsurable — would do to their benefits and premiums. The answer depends on whether new groups brought into the program would have their own risk pool, which would be a major factor, along with normal medical inflation, on future premiums. A similar plan, which brought uninsured persons into the program using regional risk pools, was considered during the Clinton administration.

The Kerry plan isn’t good — or bad — for federal workers, but people should study it as the proposal is fleshed out to see what it might do to what is now considered the model health plan in the nation, which is open to public servants but not to the public they serve.

January pay raise

The Bush administration continues to lose friends among the federal work force by insisting that the January white-collar federal pay raise be limited to 1.5 percent.

Meanwhile, pro-fed Republicans and Democrats in Congress continue efforts to ensure the feds will get the same 3.5 percent as military personnel. President Clinton tried, and failed, to shave or kill federal raises seven years in a row. Congress has three times overridden President Bush’s request for civilian pay raises lower than the military’s — and will likely do it again this year.

A major difference is that federal unions were more forgiving when Mr. Clinton attempted to cut back raises and pushed privatization of government services, and much more vocal when Mr. Bush continued the same policies. The result: Many feds feel the White House doesn’t like or appreciate them. That is something Democrats will try to capitalize on in fed-heavy Northern Virginia when they try to win Virginia’s presidential electors for the first time since Lyndon B. Johnson in 1964.

Federal/military retiree

Regardless of the size of the January federal-military pay raise, retirees from both the civil service and the military will get an inflation-indexed increase of at least 2.8 percent, and probably more. Raises for retirees are based on the cost of living as measured by the Labor Department’s Consumer Price Index. Congress and the White House won’t touch them. The final amount will depend on how much the CPI goes up between now and the end of September. People who get Social Security benefits will get the same cost-of-living adjustment.

• Mike Causey, senior editor at FederalNewsRadio.com, can be reached at 202/895-5132 or mcausey@federalnewsradio.com.

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