- The Washington Times - Monday, September 13, 2004

Most federal and postal workers — a voting bloc of several million people with a heavy presence in all the must-win states — already know what kind of president, and boss, they think George W. Bush is.

My own unscientific guess is that the president is more popular in defense-related agencies, less so in departments such as Health and Human Services or the Environmental Protection Agency. I also suspect — but couldn’t prove that feds who are better paid, better educated and better trained than many of their neighbors in many parts of the country — tend to follow local voting patterns. So that an Internal Revenue Service employee in Norfolk might vote differently than his colleague in Arlington.

But outside of New England, Sen. John Kerry, Massachusetts Democrat, is less well-known to feds, and many Americans, and his measure as a potential boss, and commander in chief is harder to take.

Neither candidate has engaged in much, if any, fed-bashing this time out. At least compared to the days when pols of both parties promised to dunk pointy-headed bureaucrats in the Potomac River. But there are some hints as to what Mr. Kerry might do to, and for, feds.

For one thing, he has said he will cut out layers of middle management in federal agencies. The Clinton administration declared a similar war that was thwarted to large extent when agencies simply removed titles such as “supervisor” and “manager” from employees who continued doing the same work, at the same grade and salary, even though they had apparently disappeared.

One way to get around that would be to cut the number of people in grades 13 to 15 regardless of what job they have or what protective title they assumed. Some feds might welcome the idea of fewer bosses. But others anxious for promotions might find the cutbacks counterproductive.

The second fed-related item Mr. Kerry has addressed, sort of, is health insurance. He has repeatedly said that all Americans should have health coverage as good as their elected representatives. That’s a hard argument to oppose.

Mr. Kerry has said he would put uninsured people into the FEHBP, the Federal Employee Health Benefits Program, and or give them comparable coverage. If it is the FEHBP itself, introducing a group of people who are uninsured — because some are now uninsurable — could increase premiums and affect benefits.

The premiums, unless somebody agreed to pay 72 percent of the total, would be out of reach of many people.

The FEHBP, a cradle-to-the-grave program, is considered one of the best — if not the best — in the nation. The government pays 72 percent of the total premium and workers and retirees get a variety of choices and can’t be rejected for any reason when they change health plans. Coverage, unlike most private plans, extends into retirement and is for life.

The details of Mr. Kerry’s plan have yet to come, and the proposal may never come to pass. But many active and retired feds, and groups like the National Association of Retired Federal Employees are very interested parties. To say the least.

Rising health care costs

Federal health insurance premiums are going up an average of 10.6 percent next January. That’s better than this year, when premiums rose an average of 11.1 percent. And it’s less than the increase in private-sector premiums.

Before you faint from shock, translate those “average” increases into real money. For Blue Cross-Blue Shield policyholders, the increase amounts to $1.81 every two weeks for those with self-only standard coverage, and an increase of $5.18 biweekly for those with family standard policies.

Still, feds and retirees will want to shop around during the open season. It begins Nov. 8 and will run through the middle of December.

During the open season we’ll have a series of “best buys” columns aimed at singles, couples, large and small families and retirees with and without Medicare.

Mike Causey, senior editor at FederalNewsRadio.com, can be reached at 202/895-5132 or [email protected]

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