Federal employees might soon have greater protections against a loss in health benefits by designating them as “emergency services” during a lapse in appropriations, based on a proposed rule change.

The proposed rule, published by the Office of Personnel Management in the Federal Register July 20, would ensure that federal employees remain in “pay status” during a shutdown for the purposes of calculating Federal Employee Health Benefit and Federal Employees’ Group Life Insurance eligibility.

FEHB and FEGLI coverage is already maintained during a lapse in appropriations for at most 365 days while an employee is in nonpay status. For health insurance, that period may be broken up by periods of less than four consecutive months of pay status.

The longest government shutdown lasted 35 days, well below the threshold for kicking employees off their insurance, but the change could help employees that were in prolonged nonpay status for other reasons within four months of a lengthy shutdown.

The rule would also make it possible for employees to see continued coverage for their Federal Employees Dental and Vision Insurance Program and the Federal Long Term Care Insurance Program coverage during a shutdown.

For all insurance plans, the employee would be expected to pay back their portion of premium costs either through back pay or some other arrangement for the time that they were on furlough.

Congress has until the end of September this year to pass all appropriations bills or a continuing resolution to prevent another government shutdown from occurring.

Comments on the proposed rule change are due via the federal rulemaking portal by Aug. 19, 2020.

Jessie Bur covers federal IT and management.

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