Executive-branch employees won’t automatically lose their existing health coverage when they become eligible soon for the insurance exchanges forming under President Obama’s healthcare law, according to the federal personnel office.

Agency officials began driving that point home this week amid continued confusion and concerns about how the so-called Obamacare legislation will affect health-benefits for federal employees.

John O’Brien, director of healthcare and insurance for the Office of Personnel Management, issued a simple message Wednesday in a memo to executive-branch employees: “The Health Insurance Marketplace does not affect the FEHB program.”

In other words, those workers can stick with their existing health program.


Members of Congress and their staffers face a different scenario beginning next year. Congress booted lawmakers and their staffers off the federal healthcare program when they agreed in 2009 to an amendment from Sen. Charles Grassley (R-Iowa) to the Affordable Care Act.

Lawmakers have raised concerns this year that the Republican provision will force their employees to shoulder the entire burden for their premiums. Sen. Tom Coburn (R-Okla.) this month held up the confirmation process for Obama’s nominee to run OPM until the agency clarified its rules about premium support for legislative workers.

OPM quickly issued rules that allow the government to help finance health coverage for lawmakers and their staffers.The guidelines state that “The government contribution for an employee who enrolls in a health benefit plan offered through an exchange … shall be calculated in the same manner as for other employees and annuitants.”

Rep. Shelley Capito (R-W.V.) proposed a bill on Monday that would exempt members of Congress, who make upwards of $170,000 per year, from that government support when they enter the insurance exchanges. The bill would place lawmakers among the upper-income earners who don’t have premium support from an employer.

The Grassley amendment does not effect executive-branch employees, so they can keep their existing coverage under Obamacare just like all other Americans. But OPM noted a few drawbacks for those who join the healthcare exchanges voluntarily, saying they would be ending their participation in the federal-worker life insurance and retirement programs.

The agency also said the government will not contribute toward health coverage for executive-branch employees who join the insurance exchanges voluntarily.

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