Firefighters stand in the rubble of a Colorado Springs, Colo., neighborhood burned by wildfires on June 29. (Brendan Smialowski / AFP via GettyImages)
Thousands of seasonal wildland firefighters are immediately eligible for federal health benefits under an interim regulation published Tuesday by the Office of Personnel Management.
Up to now, those firefighters, employed by the Agriculture and Interior departments, have been unable to enroll in the Federal Employees Health Benefits Plan because they work less than six months a year. An online petition started in late May gathered more than 126,000 signatures in support of providing coverage. The National Federation of Federal Employees, which represents firefighters, also endorsed the move.
After visiting the scene of a devastating wildfire in Colorado last month, President Obama ordered OPM to find a way to extend coverage to those temporary employees while they are on the job. Under the new program, firefighters will have the option of continuing coverage at their own expense when their seasonal stints are done, OPM John Berry said in a news release Tuesday.
The interim regulation has a 60-day public comment period. OPM officials plan to provide more advice on enrollment and administration through the Chief Human Capital Officers Council and will also formally notify agency benefits officers, the agency said in the release. Each agency “is then responsible for outreach, education and enrollment processing of eligible employees,” according to the release.