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Federal Eye
Posted at 09:30 AM ET, 03/24/2011

OPM boss says agency pushes healthy lifestyles for feds

The Office of Personnel Management is calling on health insurance companies that provide coverage through the Federal Employees Health Benefits Program to encourage healthy lifestyles by “providing concrete incentives to participate in wellness and prevention activities.”

In a speech prepared for delivery to an America’s Health Insurance Plans meeting Thursday morning, OPM Director John Berry said the agency’s “Call Letter,” which outlines areas companies will be expect ed to cover, will push to reduce obesity and “racial and ethnic disparities in health status and care.”

Noting that this week marks the first anniversary of the health reform law, Berry said his goal is to make FEHB “the innovation leader in employer-based health care.” Thanks to that law, Berry said, “over a quarter million — approximately 280,000 — more young adults, ages 22-26, will remain on their parents’ FEHB plan this year. This means fewer young adults are at risk of putting off care or suffering financially due to an accident or injury. It means peace of mind for their parents as well.”

From the making every penny count department, Berry said OPM expects to save $5 million in premiums by no longer requiring health insurance brochures to be mailed. “The full brochures will be accessible online, and they will still be mailed upon request,” Berry said. “But this will save money and a lot of trees.”

Berry also urged the insurance companies to provide health coverage for the same-sex partners of federal employees.

“Five HMOs are already offering coverage for domestic partners and others as a non-FEHB benefit.  Thank you,” Berry said. “I strongly encourage all of you to offer this type of affinity benefit for 2012.”

He said he and President Obama plan to work with Congress to change the law that now prevents FEHB from including that coverage. Congress, however, failed to do that last year when Democrats had the majority in both chambers. With Republicans now running the House, the chances that measure will pass have diminished significantly.

Nonetheless, Berry said, “we’re not giving up, because no American family should be denied health insurance. It’s not right, and it’s not good business. As an employer competing for the best talent, we need a benefits package comparable with the Fortune 500 employers we’re competing against, and that means providing benefits to domestic partners.”

During an interview after his speech, Berry said “I don’t look at his as a partisan issue.” Instead, he views the extension of benefits to same-sex domestic partners as an important element in government efforts to recruit and retain workers, a position he hopes will find Republican support.

“This is a critical tool for us to be competitive” with private employers, he added.

federaldiary@washpost.com

By  |  09:30 AM ET, 03/24/2011

 
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