Although some hopeful federal workers think an in-house long-term care plan is just around the corner, odds are that it will be late in 2002--at the earliest--before the group-rate benefit is offered to civilian workers, military personnel and selected family members.

Based on calls from interested readers and queries from agency human resources offices, it appears that some people think that long-term care insurance is a done deal and that they will soon be reading brochures and considering premiums. A few readers say they have heard (incorrectly) that long-term care coverage will be offered during the coming health insurance open enrollment period. Federal workers and retirees will be picking their health plans for 2000 in November and December, but long-term care insurance won't be one of the choices.

Although individuals can buy long-term care insurance now, as a group benefit for federal civilian workers and military personnel, coverage is still in the negotiation stage. It hasn't become law yet, and the chances of that happening this year are about zero.

So for now, LTC stands for Long Time Coming.

House backers of federal long-term care coverage hope to iron out differences this week between Republicans and Democrats. Republicans, led by Rep. Joe Scarborough (Fla.), would like to offer workers and retirees several plans and options. They think competition among plans would give workers and retirees the best possible coverage at the best possible cost.

Democrats favor a single, all-inclusive plan, with the government setting standards for coverage and premiums. They think that if there are a variety of plans, retirees or lower-income workers might be lured into inferior ones. They also worry about higher-risk individuals, the older and less healthy ones, becoming clustered in one plan.

Both Republicans and Democrats agree that individuals should pay the entire premium. Coverage would be extended to civilian workers (and most likely military personnel), their spouses, parents and parents-in-law and to retirees and their spouses. That would create a potential insurance pool of about 22 million. Currently, about 7 million Americans have long-term care insurance. Most of them have purchased individual plans, although a growing number of private employers are offering the benefit--at group rates--provided workers pay the full premium.

The first Senate hearing on long-term care insurance isn't scheduled until late October. Congress will be preoccupied with other legislation, and it plans to adjourn early this year. But the House hopes to lay the groundwork so that long-term care insurance can become law sometime next year. Once the program was signed into law, it would be 18 months before the benefit was offered to employees and retirees.

Organ Donation Leave Rep. Elijah E. Cummings (D-Md.) predicts that President Clinton will give quick approval to legislation that would give federal workers up to 30 days of paid leave to donate a kidney or other vital organ. The Cummings bill--sponsored by Sen. Daniel K. Akaka (D-Hawaii) in the Senate--cleared Congress this month.

Currently, Cummings says, federal workers may take up to seven days a year of their own leave time to donate organs or bone marrow. Cummings says the extended time off--with pay--takes into account the longer recovery period required by many organ donors and rewards rather than punishes them financially.

Hispanic Heritage Session The Department of Energy will have a Hispanic Heritage Month celebration and awards ceremony at 12:30 p.m. today, at 1000 Independence Ave. SW. Speakers include Treasury Secretary Lawrence H. Summers, Veterans Affairs Secretary Togo D. West Jr., Army Secretary Louis Caldera, Small Business Administration Administrator Aida Alvarez, top White House staffers Maria Echaveste and Mickey Ibarra and Energy Secretary Bill Richardson. Richardson is the only Hispanic in the Cabinet and the highest-ranking Hispanic in the federal government. He's also being talked about as a possible vice presidential running mate if Al Gore gets the Democratic presidential nomination.

Labor Management Awards Office of Personnel Management Director Janice R. Lachance will present labor-management partnership awards at 2 p.m. today to six agencies and unions. The awards are named for John N. Sturdivant, late president of the American Federation of Government Employees. The session will take place at OPM's auditorium, 1900 E St. NW.

Winners of the partnership awards are Defense Contract Management Command Raytheon Tucson and AFGE Local 3973; Food and Nutrition Service Western Region and National Treasury Employees Union Chapter 227; Internal Revenue Service North Central District and NTEU chapters 2,8 and 29; Overton Brooks Veteran Affairs Medical Center in Louisiana and AFGE Local 2525; The U.S. Mint and AFGE locals 51, 609, 695,1023, 3653 and 3740; and the Veterans Affairs Regional Office and AFGE Local 2571.

Mike Causey's e-mail address is causeym@washpost.com

Wednesday, Sept. 15, 1999