Senators, janitors, federal judges, FBI agents, astronauts, drivers, tax collectors, VA hospital workers, government clerks, cabinet officers and computer programmers have two things in common these days:
1) Nearly all of them are covered by the nation's largest health plan, the 9.2 million member Federal Employee Health Benefit program.
2) None of them has any idea what is happening to their office health plan, what kind of premiums they will pay next year and what kind of insurance coverage they and their families will be getting in 1982.
The Office of Personnel Management says lawsuits from unions and unreasonable (in OPM's view) decisions from judges overturning OPM-mandated benefit cuts mean that it cannot crank out brochures listing 1982 plan rates and benefits anytime soon. Hence no "open season" enrollment period can be held until late spring of 1982, OPM says.
Federal unions, members of Congress and certain judges (in their official capacity, not as enrollees in the FEHB) say that OPM had better get cracking, settle the contracts and have an open season pronto!
The American Federation of Government Employees says it will go into court, probably today, to force the OPM to hold an "open season" so that U.S. workers and retirees can make changes in their 1982 health insurance package before the new year. OPM says it must wait until an appeals court rules on (and, it hopes, overturns) a decision last week, in a case brought by the National Federation of Federal Employees and AFGE, before it can begin to print brochures and set a timetable for an open season.
Rep. Mary Rose Oakar (D-Ohio) plans to haul OPM brass before her compensation-employee benefits subcommittee this month to explain what is happening to the program, which she says is a real mess. She expects to write legislation that would take away OPM's authority to dictate benefit cutbacks in plans and to delay the open season.
Meanwhile, many of the 126 plans in the FEHB are planning rate increases ranging from 5 percent in some plans to more than 50 percent in one small program. Some of them, while denouncing OPM in public, are praying that there will not be an open season in 1982, lest thousands of enrollees bolt them for cheaper plans with lower coverage, and leave them with "heavy users" -- primarily retirees and persons using mental benefits -- who could throw their programs out of financial whack.
Legislation is pending in the Senate (by Dennis DeConcini, an Arizona Democrat) that would allow health plans to continue the same benefits packages they offered this year into 1982. But DeConcini's bill would limit the premium increase to the government to 10 percent in 1982, and require enrollees in the plan to pay the bulk of any new 1982 premium increases.
Until something happens -- either through the courts, in Congress or in some kind of out-of-court settlement between OPM and union combatants -- federal workers are stuck in their current health plans. The only thing that is certain is that many people are going to be paying a lot more for health insurance next year.