Federal employees and retirees are feeling the burn.
They’re hot over the huge jump in their long-term care premiums that will take effect Nov. 1. The increases will average 83 percent — that’s $111 per month — and rise as much as 126 percent. John Hancock Life and Health Insurance Co. provides the coverage.
Their anger mirrors that felt about a 2009 price hike and has drawn the attention of Congress. Rep. Barbara Comstock (R-Va.) has called for a House hearing on the increase. “This is a serious matter that affects over a quarter-million federal employees, some of whom are on a fixed income,” she said. “These public servants and uniformed personnel deserve answers.” The National Active and Retired Federal Employees Association (NARFE) wants Senate and House hearings.
Reps. Donald S. Beyer Jr. and Gerald E. Connolly, both Virginia Democrats, also are upset. “For those on a fixed or limited income, such an increase is simply unaffordable,” they complained in a letter to the Office of Personnel Management (OPM).
Their letter was tame compared with the outrage expressed by readers following our stories on the increase. The anger was so strong, we decided to let readers speak out by publishing these excerpts from some their letters:
Nancy Treusch, Warrenton, Va.: Thank you for the report on the biggest bait and switch ever perpetrated on federal retirees. This is a shameful thing to do to retirees, especially in light of the fact that our Civil Service Retirement System pensions and social security haven’t gone up in any meaningful way in 3 years because there hasn’t been enough inflation!! Insurance companies just rip everyone off.
Jerome L. Duncan, Annandale, Va.: There was no alert or warning regarding this increase, no notice from OPM, no public announcement or other information. And, there is also no real justification in their correspondence. We feel ripped off. Yes there could have been errors in their analyses, their assumptions, trends and risks. As a result I am upset and angry. I could possibly accept some increase but NOT 126%. I feel ripped off in a big way. I feel that OPM has failed us and owes us support.
John Lennon, Alexandria, Va.: Why does an administration that has fought so hard for health insurance permit this to happen with so little notice, and without a public discussion? What does Congress have to say about it, and with the certainty of a new Congress convening in January, why does John Hancock want this rate increase to go into effect on November 1, just before Election Day? Why are these rate increases so high – is the bottom about to fall out of the plan altogether? What are the groups “whose premium is determined to be inadequate” – is my skepticism justified, or is there some other rationale? How much money will John Hancock make from these increases, and how much of that will be plowed back into the program? Why should we believe anything that John Hancock tells us now or in the future?
Neil Ray, Silver Spring, Md.: My wife and I just got the appalling news about the new rates for this program (which we have been enrolled in for 14 years now, paying religiously every month, without making any claims, building our credits for the time that we may need it). One of the renewal options — the “Paid-up Limited Benefit (Contingent Benefit Upon Lapse)” — is based on the total premiums paid through November 1, 2016. In our case that amount would be about $28,000 (not an inconsequential sum to us).
HOWEVER, John Hancock has had our money (about $170 every month since Jan. 1, 2003) to invest for its sole benefit for almost 166 months now. IF that money was invested at a very low average of 4% return/interest over that time period, and compounded monthly, it would now amount to about $38,625. That is considerably more than $28,000 (actually 40% better).
So, in negotiating these renewal options with John Hancock, did it occur to the Office of Personnel Management to consider the investment value of this money as opposed to just the raw payment value of what John Hancock has had at its disposal for all of this time? The investment value calculation has the potential to greatly aid thousands of Federal employees and retirees who, like us, are probably gagging over these terrible options right now.
Martha N. Robinson, Silver Spring: When I think about how OPM has “managed” the huge digital hack job on top of long-term insurance, I see an agency without the readiness and competence to do what it is supposed to do.
This kind of circumstance does not just happen overnight. OPM had to have known things weren’t working out over the years. I’d like to know when they knew about it and exactly the steps they took to fix the problems before what feels like an 11th hour encyclical forced on us.
So, here we are: the cost of this outrageous development has been thrust on the backs of ordinary people like me who worked hard with no expectation that the government would betray us.
We deserve better.