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Bill would open FEHBP to non-feds

Oct. 24, 2013 - 06:00AM   |  
By SEAN REILLY   |   Comments
USPS Hearing MWM 20130213
Rep. Darrell Issa, R-Calif., introduced a bill that would allow all Americans to sign up for the Federal Employees Health Benefits Program. (Mike Morones/Staff)

All Americans could sign up for the Federal Employees Health Benefits Program under a bipartisan bill introduced Wednesday by Rep. Darrell Issa, R-Calif.

“The American people should have as easy a consumer experience as federal employees do,” Issa, who chairs the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, said in a news release. “People can visit the [Office of Personnel Management’s] website to see how easy it would be for Americans to compare health insurance prices under this system.”

Under the bill, nonfederal enrollees would not get the same government subsidy enjoyed by federal workers and retirees that covers the bulk of the premium expense, Issa spokesman Ali Ahmad said an interview. But private companies could offer help as an employee benefit, he said. Lower-income participants could also qualify for tax credits under the Affordable Care Act, widely known as Obamacare.

But the head of the largest federal employee union seized on the cost factor.

Many federal workers don’t participate in the FEHBP because they can’t afford their 30 percent share of the premium cost, J. David Cox, national president of the American Federation of Government Employees, said in a statement.

Issa “would have people pay the entire premium, and that is something only millionaires could afford,” he said.

Letting non-feds into the FEHPB is not a new idea. During his 2004 presidential run, for example, Democratic candidate John Kerry proposed it as part of a broader health care overhaul package.

Issa’s version comes as the Obama administration is struggling to fix HealthCare.gov, the problem-plagued federal website intended to let Americans shop for private insurance online.

Issa is seeking to “muddle the conversation” over the Affordable Care Act, said Drew Halunen, spokesman for another union, the National Federation of Federal Employees.

“The chairman is fishing right now for a talking point, and we’re not getting in this fight,” Halunen said. An OPM spokesman had no comment.

Co-sponsoring the bill are Reps. Mick Mulvaney, R-S.C., and William Lacy Clay, D-Mo.

The FEHBP currently covers about 8.2 million federal employees, retirees and their dependents, according to OPM.

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