- The Washington Times - Monday, September 27, 2004

The battle over the soul and premiums of the government’s in-house health care plan is making some people sick.

Backers of health savings accounts — mostly Republicans and conservatives — say the tax-free accounts will reward people who manage their health care wisely.

Opponents say they penalize people who need coverage most, and that introduction in the Federal Employees Health Benefits Program will split the risk pool with young, healthy people flocking to health savings accounts and older, unhealthy people staying in regular plans and driving up premiums.

Congressional Democrats have lost two bouts this month. The first was an effort to kill funding for health savings accounts in the federal program. The second would have required anybody opening an account this open season to remain in it for three years. Both proposals have lost, but they will be back next year in different forms.

Meanwhile, federal and postal workers and retirees — whose policies cover 1-day-old children and 100-plus-year-old retirees — must make what could be the most important decision of the year: which health plan to pick during the upcoming open season and whether or not to go with a health savings account.

For most people, what they do won’t kill them or ruin them financially, but depending on the state of a person’s health or number and severity of accidents next year, a bad choice could become catastrophic.

Pay raise

The federal civilian 3.5 percent pay raise juggernaut continues to roll along.

Pro-fed members of the House and Senate (who come from the Washington area, but also from Alaska, Hawaii, Maine and Illinois) are giving the pay raise protective coating as part of a must-sign appropriations bill.

The White House continues to defend its proposed 1.5 percent raise, but just barely.

Presidential opposition to federal pay raises determined by a formula in the 1990 Federal Pay Act started in 1993. President Clinton was told that feds were due a substantial pay raise, part of the down payment needed to close an estimated 23 percent pay “gap” with industry. But he balked on economic grounds and proposed a zero pay raise — a freeze.

Congress then overrode Mr. Clinton, giving feds locality raises ranging from 3 percent to nearly 6 percent. That has been the pattern ever since.

The president calls for a smaller raise, Congress raises the amount. But none of the congressional add-ons has approached the amounts that were due feds, according to the 1990 law.

As a result, if you believe government salary data (many don’t), feds are still well behind the private sector on a job-for-job basis in most U.S. cities.

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

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