Health premium surprise

With pay frozen and pensions threatened, federal workers and retirees have been waiting for the next shoe to drop — the what's-next moment. But it could be...

It’s been so long since federal workers and retirees have had any good news that some have probably forgotten how to handle it. But there may be, as in maybe, some on the way.

If you are standing, you may want to sit down. If you are already sitting, try to slump.

First the bad news: Federal pay has been frozen for two years by order of the President. And while he’s proposed a small raise, the current freeze extends 2013 unless and until Congress deals with budget for next fiscal year. But you knew that.

What you also know is that any day now, the Office of Personnel Management will announce what health-insurance premiums federal workers, retirees and survivors will have to pay next year. With medical inflation skyrocketing, and private-sector premiums going up, the news should be bad. But maybe not.

Insiders say the Office of Personnel Management is pulling out all stops in an effort to hold the 2013 premium hikes below the already low levels of this year. Last year, just before the health-insurance open enrollment period, OPM announced that the overall average increase in health premiums for 2012 would be 3.8 percent. That was the result of an average increase in contributions of 4 percent for the government and 3.5 percent for employees and retirees.

Insurance industry sources say that OPM has “strongly encouraged” health plans to hold down premiums. This can be done a variety of ways, including using financial reserves of the federal health program which covers nearly 9 million current and former feds, and even ex-spouses and grandchildren who never worked for the government.

They speculate this is partly to give a little financial help to pay-frozen feds. And it is also a way to deliver welcome news to feds just before the November election. Federal workers make up a huge chunk of the voting age population in California, New York, Texas, Florida, Illinois and Ohio, not to mention Maryland, Virginia and D.C. There are lots of retired feds, and family members, in those states too. The fed family vote in the Tidewater area and Northern Virginia could determine the winners in what is said to be a tight race in the Old Dominion.


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