- The Washington Times - Monday, October 6, 2003

For federal workers in agencies that need to reshuffle, rebalance or reduce their work force, the next three months are buyout/early-out prime time.

Congress streamlined buyout procedures last year, and agencies are just beginning to use the program that offers cash inducements for workers who retire early or leave the work force.

The Environmental Protection Agency plans to use the new-style buyouts (authorized in the law setting up the Department of Homeland Security) from now to early January. It will use the surgical approach, limiting buyouts to selected jobs and grade levels. With rare exceptions, employees must be off the payroll by early January at the latest.

Congress has given power to approve buyouts to the Office of Personnel Management. Previously, agency heads had to go to Capitol Hill hat-in-hand, begging to be allowed to pay selected workers up to $25,000 to depart.

Republicans were glad to go along with the Clinton downsizing plan, but the procedure was cumbersome and costly. Now agencies can get quick approval and no longer have to pay the equivalent of a big chunk of the employees’ salary into the pension fund, and they don’t lose a slot for each buyout taker.

Look for parts of other departments to offer buyouts in the next few weeks. Hint: The U.S. Postal Service, the largest federal agency, will not be one of them.

Health insurance correction

I dropped a very important word in last week’s item about federal health insurance eligibility. Many readers understood the correct meaning, but some were puzzled. The bottom line is that federal workers and retirees CANNOT be refused coverage by a plan in the Federal Employee Health Benefits Program because of age, health or any pre-existing medical condition.

You can be about to give birth, or ready to die, and the health plan you choose must take you and cover you. That, plus the fact that the FEHBP covers retirees and spouses (most private health plans don’t cover retirees) makes it the best staff health program in America.

The open season when feds and retirees can pick their year 2004 health plan runs from Nov. 10 to Dec. 8.

Anytime open season

Another great feature of the federal health program is that it permits a special anytime-you-need-it open season for feds and retirees who have a change in marital status (you can switch immediately from self only to family, or the reverse), family status or — if you are in a local HMO — geographic location. If you belong to an HMO and move to another state, you can switch to a participating HMO in your new locality or to a fee-for-service plan that covers you anywhere.

Snowbirds, retirees who decide to live different places at different times of the year, should not have HMO coverage and can take advantage of the anytime-you-need-it open season feature.

Life insurance

Premiums for the Federal Employees Group Life Insurance program (FEGLI) are going up slightly for older feds in January. This is the second of three price increases being phased in for those 70 and older. Once the premium increases occur, the government will have a FEGLI open season to give people a chance to change coverage.

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

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