As the deadline nears for Congress to pass a budget for fiscal 2024, the threat of a shutdown puts a number of agency operations at risk of stopping.
Generally speaking, not all of government would stop because certain functions would be considered “essential.” However the employees who would provide those services risk not getting a paycheck for several weeks or longer, depending on how long a shutdown lasts.
For federal employees who depend on the government to pay them and provide employment benefits, health insurance coverage paid via payroll deduction would not lapse — even if paychecks do. That means workers won’t be dropped from coverage even if they’re furloughed.
“With your health insurance and your life insurance, that’s going to continue,” said Tammy Flanagan, a benefits and retirement expert, in an interview. “You’re still covered [for] up to 12 months of non-pay status. You don’t have to worry about doing anything with your [FEHB] health benefits or your FEGLI life insurance.”
However, for dental, vision and long-term care insurance, Flanagan said employees should be aware that payments will pause for a few pay periods before resuming, so workers need to be prepared to pay that bill when it comes.
Normally, coverage for dental and vision stops once an employee goes into a period of non-pay or insufficient pay, or if they stop making direct premium payments.
In 2021, the Office of Personnel Management instituted a rule that ensures federal employees remain in “pay status” during a shutdown for the purposes of insurance eligibility. Under that rule, missed premiums will be paid to the insurance from back pay received upon the end of a funding lapse.
Benefeds, which administers the FEDVIP program, will send a bill to enrollees for unpaid premiums after two consecutive pay periods. The grace period is three pay periods for long-term care insurance.
If you don’t pay that bill when it comes, Flanagan said, you could then be left without coverage, so anticipate those premiums to resume.
“You have to have money set aside because you don’t want to be dropped, especially from the long-term care program because then you have to apply again and may not qualify at the same price.”
Averting a shutdown this year depends on Congress passing its funding package, or a stopgap bill, by Sept. 30. A group of House Republicans reached consensus on a short-term measure Sunday that would keep up funding until the end of October to buy lawmakers more time.
Molly Weisner is a staff reporter for Federal Times where she covers labor, policy and contracting pertaining to the government workforce. She made previous stops at USA Today and McClatchy as a digital producer, and worked at The New York Times as a copy editor. Molly majored in journalism at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.