- The Washington Times - Tuesday, September 3, 2002

If Blue Cross-Blue Shield pulls out of the Federal Employee Health Benefits Program, the ripple effect will hit millions of workers and especially retirees.
BC-BS says it will leave the program, which accounts for only about 5 percent of its total business, if forced to adopt new cost accounting procedures. The House, in a post-Enron gesture to make itself look effective, ordered the new procedures for all the FEHBP plans.
Many active-duty feds, and most retirees and members of Congress, belong to the Blues plan. If it leaves the federal program, several things could, or might, happen:
Millions of workers and retirees would be forced to find a new health plan (for the year 2003) during the open season that will run from mid-November to early December. The FEHBP covers 9 million people, including about half the population of the Washington area.
Workers who failed to pick another plan could lose their coverage. Retirees who didn't pick a substitute probably would be assigned to a different fee-for-service plan.
Retirees and survivors, who are considered "heavy users," would migrate to other plans with smaller (and younger) membership bases. That could add to costs and future premium increases in many of the plans.
The FEHBP program is among the most monitored in the nation. Backers of the plan to make it change/tighten its accounting procedures say it would send a signal that the government means business.
Opponents say it's a last-minute showboating attempt that will do little except drive the biggest plan from the federal program.
Look for Washington-area members of Congress to lead the fight to get Blue Cross off the accounting change hook and keep it in the program.
Union dues
Rep. Constance A. Morella, Maryland Republican, picked up a big endorsement last week from the National Treasury Employees Union. NTEU is the biggest independent (non AFL-CIO) union in government. And it normally backs Democratic candidates.
But NTEU President Colleen Kelley said Mrs. Morella's longtime support of higher federal pay raises, day care and the federal 401(k) program merits the rare endorsement.
Mrs. Morella is awaiting the Sept. 10 Democratic primary to find out whom she will battle to maintain her 8th District seat, state Delegate Mark K. Shriver or state Sen. Christopher Van Hollen.
A real federal case
The way Uncle Sam handles in-house charges of discrimination is about to undergo some streamlining. Cari M. Dominguez says it now takes an average of 420 days (and tens of thousands of dollars) to process discrimination complaints made by federal workers.
Miss Dominguez, who is chairman of the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, says some cases drag on for years and that only a handful of those who grind through the machinery are settled in favor of workers.
Her solution: A new expedited system with emphasis on mediation and alternative dispute resolution.
Retiree tax break
The National Association of Retired Federal Employees says "premium conversion" continues to be its No. 1 legislative issue in this Congress. That is a signal that the half-million-member organization thinks the bill has a good chance of passage.
Premium conversion already available to federal workers would let the retired feds pay health premiums with pretax dollars. That reduction in taxable income would lower their federal tax tab $200 to $400 per year.
Legislative also-rans
Still in the running in Congress: Bills that would modify (or eliminate) the formulas that can reduce Social Security benefits of many federal retirees, or eliminate Social Security spousal or survivor benefits for retired feds, schoolteachers and other public employees. The so-called Windfall Elimination Provision hits the Social Security benefit earned by some feds, while the Government Pension Offset formula can gobble up spousal or survivor Social Security benefits.

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