New bills look to lock in health coverage for feds during shutdowns

House and Senate lawmakers are teaming up on a new bill to make sure federal employee health benefits are not interrupted in the event of a government shutdown.

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Lawmakers in both chambers want to make sure, in the event of future shutdowns, federal employees' health benefits are not interrupted.

Insurance premiums are deducted from employee paychecks. During shutdowns, employees aren't paid, which means that in some cases they have to pay premiums directly to carriers.

Coverage under the Federal Employee Health Benefits continues even when employees are in a non-pay situation, with premiums deducted from paychecks once a shutdown is ended. However, as the Office of Personnel Managment explained in the midst of the last shutdown, feds have to pay premiums directly to carriers for vision, dental and long-term care insurance in the event of a shutdown that lasts longer than three consecutive pay periods.

Now a group of representatives and senators are sponsoring a pair of bills aimed at safeguarding those benefits in the event of a shutdown.

One bill makes sure that furloughed and excepted employees would remain covered by the Federal Employees Dental and Vision Insurance Program, as well as the Federal Long-Term Care Insurance Program, during lapses in appropriations.

Another bill, the Ensuring Federal Employee Health Benefits Program During Shutdowns Act, guarantees that feds can make a "qualifying live event" change to enroll dependents and make other changes even during a shutdown.

On the House side, Elijah Cummings (D-Md.), Gerry Connolly (D-Va.), Mark Meadows (R-N.C), Katherine Clark (D-Mass.), Don Young (R-Alaska) and Van Taylor (R-Texas) cosponsored the two bills. On the Senate side, Tina Smith (D-Minn.), Ben Cardin (D-Md.), Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.), Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio), Tim Kaine (D-Va.) and Mark Warner (D-Va.) put their names on the bills.

"While we truly hope to avoid shutdowns in the future, the measures we are introducing today would ensure that federal employees could enroll their newborn babies in their health insurance plans and that they would not lose their dental, vision, or long-term care insurance if another funding lapse occurs," the lawmakers said in a joint statement.

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