Federal employees rank their retirement savings and health insurance programs as the most important of their benefits, and large majorities say those programs meet their needs and provide value for the money.
Those were among the main findings of the 2013 Federal Employee Benefits Survey whose results the Office of Personnel Management recently released.
Unlike the Federal Employee Viewpoint Survey, an annual gauge of employee attitudes about a range of workplace matters, the benefits survey is conducted only sporadically. Before last year, it was last sent out in 2011, and before that in 2004 and 2006.
The 401(k)-style Thrift Savings Plan was rated important or extremely important by 96 percent of respondents, the Federal Employees Health Benefits Program by 90 percent, and FEHBP coverage in retirement by 87 percent. Similarly, 90 percent said the TSP meets their needs to a moderate or great extent, while 82 percent said the same of the FEHBP and 57 percent said that of the FEHBP’s retiree coverage.
Only single-digit percentages consider them not at all adequate.
At the opposite end, barely half consider long-term care insurance important or extremely important, and barely four-tenths said the same of flexible spending accounts. Only two-tenths said the former meets their needs to a moderate or great extent, and only three-tenths said that of the latter.
Compared with 2004, the TSP rose 15 points in meeting needs to a great extent, while health and life insurance and many other benefits held about steady. The long-term care insurance program meanwhile dropped 17 points in that time, while the flexible spending account program fell 16 points just since 2011.
There were similar patterns in assessments of the value the benefits provide for the money. The TSP was rated as providing fair, good or excellent value by 92 percent, and the FEHBP by 79 percent. Only 49 percent said the same of retiree health insurance, but nearly as many either didn’t answer or said they didn’t know regarding that benefit.
Responses regarding the defined benefit annuity programs were mixed, partly reflecting that employees are covered by one of two separate systems and participants in one could not judge the other.
Of those surveyed, only 6 percent did not participate in the TSP, most commonly because of the cost of investing. Just 8 percent did not participate in the FEHBP, mainly because they have health coverage elsewhere such as through a spouse’s employment or the military Tricare program.
In contrast, only 23 percent do participate in the flexible spending account program and only 7 percent participate in the long term care insurance program.
The OPM report said those two programs “have struggled with ratings across all categories. The fact that reported enrollment is low and importance, value and adequacy scores have decreased over time presents an opportunity to increase education and communication about the benefits of each program.”
Meanwhile, it said, “TSP ratings have continued to climb in all categories since 2004, suggesting employees understand the financial benefit they receive by deferring money for retirement. Agencies should continue to promote the benefits of enrolling and contributing to the TSP, as the [survey] results show that employees understand, appreciate and value the program as an important part of their federal employee benefits.”
The survey was sent to about 39,000 employees chosen randomly and had a 35 percent response rate.
In a separate report based on the survey, OPM said more efforts are needed to inform federal employees that smoking cessation programs and medicines are covered by the FEHBP. Most respondents, both tobacco users and non-users were unaware of that benefit, and over half of current users reported a desire to quit.
In a third report, OPM called on agencies to promote health and wellness programs, particularly health risk assessments used to identify risks and recommend changes in behavior.