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Federal Eye
Posted at 02:28 PM ET, 07/17/2012

Federal firefighters now can get health insurance

Firefighters who serve as temporary federal employees to fight wildfires are now eligible for federal health insurance coverage after a campaign to provide the coverage that produced quick results.

Rules from the Office of Personnel Management, effective immediately, will let temporary firefighters and fire protection personnel enroll in the Federal Employees Health Benefits Program on the same terms as full-time federal workers, including providing family coverage. They will receive the government contribution toward the insurance while they are employed, which typically pays about 70 percent of the total premium.

Typically, temporary federal employees don’t become eligible for FEHBP until they work for a continuous year, but the rules carve out an exception, citing the hazards of firefighting work and the importance to the nation in fighting those fires. Many federal firefighters are temporary employees because the work tends to be seasonal, and typically they do not work enough hours to qualify for coverage under prior policy. There will be no minimum number of hours required for eligibility under the new rules.

The drive to provide the insurance started with an online petition in April, followed by President Obama taking a personal interest during a visit last month to a fire site in Colorado.

“Issuing this interim final regulation meets President Obama’s direction to ensure that the brave men and women who compose our nation’s federal firefighter ranks, and who are currently fighting dangerous wildfires in states across the country, are eligible for the same health insurance available to other federal employees, retirees and their families,” OPM Director John Berry said in a statement.

OPM said the firefighters will be allowed to continue their insurance coverage when not federally employed, although entirely at their own expense.

Although the rules are effective immediately, there is a comment period, and OPM said it will issue guidance on enrollment procedures and certain other details of the policy.

By  |  02:28 PM ET, 07/17/2012

 
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