Federal Diary readers add their voices to recent columns

By Joe Davidson
Tuesday, April 13, 2010; B03

The Federal Diary gets lots of mail, some of it fit to print. We give readers a chance to speak out by occasionally presenting some of their letters related to issues we've covered, such as these:

Telework needs tailoring

I am not a particular fan of telework, and in my own position in the music division of the Library of Congress, the vast majority of what I (and most of my colleagues) do is impossible or difficult to do via telework.

However, during the recent blizzard closings, I was more than happy to answer e-mails, respond to reference queries and work on a writing project while at home -- although none of this was credited as telework when the recent reevaluation was made that determined how much work continued to be done remotely while local federal offices were closed.

To me, telework would be most useful and make the most sense if it were far more flexible so that individuals and organizations could quickly (or even retroactively) approve telework as circumstances require or projects allow. As it is now, the process is cumbersome, time-consuming, and set up to deal with only regularly scheduled telework or long-planned projects.

Why not have it set up so that during snowstorms, major problems on Metro, suddenly ill children or burst water heaters, employees could simply e-mail their supervisors and immediately make arrangements to do work from home to the degree that it's possible and appropriate -- perhaps with a bank of waiting projects.

I'm not suggesting it be a guaranteed option, but anything that enables us to be as productive as possible seems to me to be a good thing.

-- Mark Horowitz, Washington

Stranded Social Security

I had to write this to you to share another horror story with the Office of Personnel Management and the Navy.

I put in my papers to retire around the first of January 2008 with the intention of retiring in October 2008. When I put in my papers, I never could get anyone to tell me what I was entitled to money-wise. Then one day, I was informed over the phone that for some reason I was put into the wrong retirement system back in 1984, thus no Social Security was being taken out. No personnel office in my entire career ever caught this problem (wrong retirement system and no Social Security). Now I have an issue with Social Security. Now the Navy is trying to figure out and straighten out the Social Security mess.

In September of this year, I must sign up for Social Security benefits as I will be 62 years old. I will be losing about $700 (offset) a month because of errors dating to 1984. I call almost every week trying to push the Navy to take care of this situation. OPM told me that they can't do anything for me since it has to do with Social Security. There are a lot of people that OPM and the Navy have messed around with in reference to their retirement.

-- Carol Labanowski, retired Navy civilian

A case of silent cost hikes

I am a retired federal employee from the Federal Aviation Administration. I have the following comments relating to the Federal Employees Health Benefits Program. I have a single covered policy with Blue Cross.

1. Drug costs. Recently, the cost of brand-type prescriptions was increased from $35 to $65. No explanation from OPM.

2. Premium costs. The Blue Cross Blue Shield premium increased 17 percent in 2010. No explanation from OPM.

3. I also have Medicare with a similar increase in premium costs.

4. Premiums are unfair to many, such as a family of two and those on Medicare. Medicare is the primary insurance company, and it pays most of the medical costs. Blue Cross pays about 20 percent. Yet I pay the same premium as others.

Question: Why should I pay the same premium for a single person when FEHBP pays only a portion of the medical costs?

Question: Why should a family of two pay the same premium as a family or four or more?


-- Richard C. Clough, Rockville

Blue Cross Blue Shield said the highest increase was 15.1 percent.

OPM said: "Federal employees and retirees can elect self only or family coverage. . . . The advantage of having only two categories is that the risk (likelihood of claim costs) is spread over a broad range of people, some of whom have very high health care costs and some of whom have very low health care costs. The premium paid by the employee/retiree and the government is an average that reflects the risks of this broad enrollee base. . . .

"People 65 and older generally have higher health care costs than younger people because of the onset of chronic disease and the aging process. Keeping older employees and retirees in the same risk pool as younger employees lowers the premium cost for older employees and retirees. This is true even though federal employees and retirees 65 and older are eligible for Medicare and FEHBP."

Articles related to these letters can be found through this column at http://washingtonpost.com. You can speak out by writing to federaldiary@washpost.com.

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