Federal health insurance premiums would range from $10 every two weeks for a single worker with standard coverage to $44 for high-option family coverage under legislation introduced yesterday by Rep. Gary L. Ackerman (D-N.Y.). The federal health program helps pay the doctor, dental and hospital bills of half the people in the Washington metropolitan area.
Ackerman's plan, outlined here Feb. 7, would reduce the choices available to workers and retirees and would shift most of the premium burden to the federal government. Agencies now pay an average of 60 percent of the premium for employees and retirees. Ackerman said the current approach gives workers coverage that is less comprehensive and more expensive than is available to many private-sector workers.
In February, the Congressional Research Service estimated the plan would cost the government an additional $2 billion. Ackerman now estimates it would cost an extra $3.8 billion a year. He estimates it would save employees and retirees $1.5 billion a year in premiums.
If the bill became law, employees and retirees would be able to choose either single or family coverage from two plans, one offering standard-option coverage, the other high-option coverage. They could also choose coverage from a local health maintenance organization.
The federal health program covers nearly 10 million federal and District government employees, family members and retirees. It includes everyone from government clerks and janitors to members of Congress and former presidents. D.C. Mayor Marion Barry belongs to the American Postal Workers Union plan and pays $37.31 every two weeks for family coverage.
Currently employees and retirees can choose from 26 national plans, plus dozens of local health maintenance organizations. Benefits vary greatly and premiums range from a few hundred dollars a year to more than $5,000.
Premiums under the Ackerman proposal would start at $10 a pay period for self-only standard coverage and $22 for family coverage. High-option single coverage would be $20 per pay period and $44 for family coverage. By contrast, employees enrolled in the most popular plan, Blue Cross-Blue Shield, now pay $16.22 every two weeks for single coverage and $35.55 for family coverage in the standard plan. Those in the Blue Cross-Blue Shield high-option plan pay $86.68 every two weeks for single coverage and $180.91 every two weeks for family coverage.
Under the Ackerman proposal, standard-option deductibles would range from $200 to $400 and high-option deductibles would be $100 to $200 a year. Out-of-pocket expenses would be linked to salary, ranging from an out-of-pocket maximum of $2,500 in the standard option to $1,000 in the high-option plan.
The American Federation of Government Employees and the National Treasury Employees Union hailed Ackerman's plan as a long-overdue change that would help make federal employment more attractive. Ackerman said hearings before his House Post Office and Civil Service subcommittee on compensation and employee benefits will begin June 20. The administration is expected to oppose the plan, citing its cost.