Feds Will Pay 3.8 Percent More Toward Health Care Premiums in 2015

Christian Delbert / Shutterstock.com

Federal employees and retirees will pay an average of 3.8 percent more toward their health insurance premiums in 2015, the Office of Personnel Management announced Tuesday.

Federal Employees Health Benefits Program enrollees with self-only coverage will contribute an average of $2.93 more per paycheck, while those with family coverage will pay about $6.89 more.

The increase is steeper than the rise in the government’s portion of the premiums, which will go up 3 percent. The employee share is increasing faster because employees are choosing better plans that require more out-of-pocket costs. Overall, the government pays about 70 percent of employees’ premiums.

Postal employees will face much more dramatic increases, and will contribute an average of 18.7 percent more toward their premiums next year. The government contributions will decrease an average of 0.9 percent. OPM officials said the bargaining process has caused the employee share to go up.

Overall premiums for non-postal employees, including both the employee and government portions, will increase by 3.2 percent. That is down from last year when they jumped 3.7 percent. OPM officials were satisfied with the figures, noting 2015 will mark the fourth consecutive year in which the increase was below 4 percent — the longest such streak since the mid-1990s.

“We generally feel we are in the low end of the industry average,” said John Foley, OPM’s director of Planning and Policy Analysis. He added private-sector estimates showed a 3 percent to 6.5 percent increase for premiums next year.

OPM officials pointed to positive market trends and the effects of the Affordable Care Act as responsible for the relatively low rate hikes. Federal employees and retirees had to pay an additional 4.4 percent toward their premiums in 2014, while the government share went up 3.3 percent. In the three years prior to 2012, premiums went up overall by more than 7 percent annually. Still, federal employee advocates were not satisfied with the 2015 rates.

“The health insurance premium increase will take another bite out of the already diminished paychecks of middle-class federal employees across the country,” said Joseph Beaudoin, president of the National Active and Retired Federal Employees Association. “While the 3.2 percent increase in health insurance premiums is in line with the private sector, any increase means reduced take-home pay for federal employees, who, at most, will receive a 1 percent pay raise next year.”

This year’s exact increase will vary from plan to plan. The most popular plan — the Blue Cross and Blue Shield Standard Option — will see a $3.21, or 3.7 percent, increase for self-only enrollees per paycheck; family enrollees in the plan will pay an extra $8.33, or 4.1 percent, per paycheck.  Forty percent of FEHBP participants are enrolled in that plan.

Premiums in the Federal Employees Dental and Vision Insurance Program will have more favorable numbers for feds, with dental rates increasing an average of 1.7 percent and vision premiums increasing an average of 1.5 percent compared to 2014.

Enrollees in the federal flexible savings account plan will for the first time have the option to carry over up to $500 into 2016. They will no longer have the grace period through March 15 to spend the money in their own accounts, though they still have the option for their dependents. The minimum contribution will be lowered to $100, while the maximum will be $2,500.

In March, OPM sent out a call letter to insurers to kick off premium negotiations, asking providers to focus on prescription drug costs, compliance with ACA and wellness programs.

FEHBP will offer a total of 257 plans in 2015, one more than it offered in 2014. Four of the plans are new offerings, while 11 will be offered to all FEHBP participants.

Open Season, the period in which federal employees and retirees can enroll in FEHBP or switch plans, will run from Nov. 10 through Dec. 8. Between 4 percent and 7 percent of enrollees typically switch plans annually.

(Image via Christian Delbert / Shutterstock.com)

Congress Staves Off Government Shutdown…for Now

Congress Staves Off Government Shutdown…for Now

Gary Blakeley / Shutterstock.com
The Senate on Thursday easily passed a short-term spending bill, clearing the way for the government to avoid a shutdown until at least mid-December.

The Senate’s passage by a vote of 73-22 follows the House approving on Wednesday the $1.01 trillion stopgap measure — which funds agencies at their current spending levels through Dec. 11. The stopgap measure will now head to President Obama, who has indicated he will sign it.

“The administration appreciates that the House bill allows critical government functions to operate without interruption and avoids a damaging government shutdown,” the White House wrote in a statement of administration policy.

Federal employee advocates also expressed support for the continuing resolution, but said the short-term nature of the bill makes it difficult for agencies to carry out their missions.

“As we have seen over the past several years, a series of short-term, patchwork funding solutions are becoming the norm rather than the exception,” said the Federal-Postal Coalition, an amalgamation of more than 30 federal workforce groups. “Continuing resolutions tie the hands of managers and employees alike by limiting strategic planning and restricting resources to get the job done.”

In some respects, however, the CR was good news for federal workers. The stopgap bill is mum on President Obama’s request to grant federal employees a 1 percent, across-the-board pay raise in 2015, effectively allowing the pay bump to go through. Congress, which is set to recess this week until after the upcoming November election, will aim to pass an omnibus appropriations bill when it returns. Lawmakers could theoretically block the pay raise at that time, though they have yet to show any interest in doing so.

The CR will extend the charter of the Export-Import Bank — set to expire Sept. 30 — through June 2015. Bank officials said they would not have been forced to shut their doors come Oct. 1 in the absence of congressional action, but the agency’s 400 employees would have been out of a job when its portfolio reached maturity.

The Obama administration offered tepid praise for the Ex-Im provision.

“While the administration acknowledges that the bill reauthorizes the Export-Import Bank, the administration encourages the Congress to pass a long-term extension to provide certainty to job-creators that export U.S.-made products and services,” the White House said.

The CR also includes a boost in funding for the Veterans Affairs Department to investigate potential impropriety in manipulating waitlist data and retaliating against whistleblowers. It would increase appropriations to reduce VA’s disability claims backlog and allow Customs and Border Protection the flexibility to move funds around so it can maintain current workforce levels.

The measure avoids more controversial provisions, such as addressing the U.S. Postal Service’s plan to close 82 facilities nationwide in 2015. A majority of senators and 160 House representatives wrote to their respective appropriations committees asking that any spending bill delay closures for one year.

Per Obama’s direct request, the spending bill includes language authorizing the training and arming of moderate opposition against the radical Islamic group ISIS.

(Image via Gary Blakeley / Shutterstock.com)

Bill to Avoid Shutdown on Track for Passage This Week

Bill to Avoid Shutdown on Track for Passage This Week

Flickr user Rich Renomeron

A spending bill to keep government agencies open appears poised to clear Congress this week, though the final iteration of the measure remains unclear.

Lawmakers in the House debated the continuing resolution, which would fund agencies and avoid a government shutdown until Dec. 11, at length on Tuesday, with members of both parties agreeing the stopgap measure was poor practice but unfortunately necessary. The legislators took considerable time — an unusual six hours — to debate President Obama’s request to authorize further military strikes and opposition training and arming to “degrade and destroy” the radical Islamist group ISIS.

House leadership anticipated a vote on both the military request, which is being offered as an amendment to the spending bill by House Armed Services Committee Chairman Buck McKeon, R-Calif., and the CR itself on Wednesday. The Senate would then vote on the measure on Thursday before it leaves Washington, D.C., in advance of the upcoming November election.

House Republicans said on Tuesday passage of Obama’s military request would require the support of at least some Democrats, many of whom have expressed reservations about authorizing airstrikes and more Americans on the ground in Iraq. The underlying shutdown averting bill has encountered little resistance, however.

“We should not and cannot continue to fall back on short-term spending bills like this one,” said House Appropriations Committee Chairman Hal Rogers, R-Ky., author of the $1.01 trillion bill, on the House floor Tuesday. He added the lack of regular order in appropriations causes “uncertainty within our federal agencies and economy,” but that “at this time though, the best way to avoid serious damage to this country is to pass this continuing resolution.”

So far the House has passed seven of the 12 spending bills necessary to issue line-by-line appropriations at each agency, while the Senate has passed none. Rogers blamed Senate Democrats for necessitating the stopgap measure.

The stopgap bill is mum on Obama’s request to grant federal employees a 1 percent, across-the-board raise in 2015, effectively allowing the pay bump to go through. Congress would aim to pass an omnibus appropriations bill after the midterms. Lawmakers could theoretically block the pay raise at that time, though they have yet to show any interest in doing so.

If passed, the CR would extend the charter of the Export-Import Bank — set to expire Sept. 30 — through June 2015. While Bank officials said they would not have been forced to shut their doors come Oct. 1 in the absence of congressional action, the agency’s 400 employees would have been out of a job when its portfolio reached maturity.

The CR also includes a boost in funding for the Veterans Affairs Department to investigate potential impropriety in manipulating waitlist data and retaliating against whistleblowers. It would increase appropriations for VA to reduce its disability claims backlog and allow Customs and Border Protection the flexibility to move funds around so it can maintain its current workforce levels.

The measure avoids more controversial provisions, such as addressing the U.S. Postal Service’s plan to close 82 facilities nationwide in 2015. A majority of senators and 160 House representatives wrote to their respective appropriations committees asking that any spending bill delay closures for one year.

(Image via Flickr user Rich Renomeron)

One Chart Showing Every Military Pay Raise in the Last 30 Years

One Chart Showing Every Military Pay Raise in the Last 30 Years

A U.S. Marine patrols a poppy field in the Helmand province of Afghanistan.
A U.S. Marine patrols a poppy field in the Helmand province of Afghanistan. Petty Officer 1st Class Mark O’Donald/U.S. Navy
Civilian federal employees seem headed for a 1 percent pay raise in 2015. President Obama called for it, and Congress has shown no inclination to stand in his way.

The fate of the military raise, however, hangs much more in the balance. Obama and a Senate committee have backed a 1 percent pay boost, while the House has passed legislation that would give uniformed service personnel a 1.8 percent base salary increase.

The Senate has yet to pass its annual defense authorization bill, which sets the level for the military pay raise. If the Senate advances the committee-backed version of the bill, House-Senate negotiators would have to reconcile the gap between the 1.8 percent raise and the 1 percent figure in conference committee.

Military personnel received a 1 percent raise in 2014, the lowest such increase in the last several decades. The annual pay bump peaked in 1982, when uniformed service members received a 14.3 percent raise after receiving an 11.7 percent boost the year before.

The military pay raise is technically automatically tied to a Bureau of Labor Statistics figure — the Employment Cost Index — that measures wage increases in the private sector. The president will usually make his own proposal, however, and Congress has the final say. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel has endorsed a plan to give service members smaller raises as part of a larger effort to shrink compensation costs, saying the Pentagon can no longer afford the large increases military personnel received in the years following the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.

Civilian and military pay raises have, at times, mirrored each other, especially in the 1980s and 1990s, according to the Congressional Research Service. Since the turn of the century, Congress has by and large granted military personnel larger salary bumps. The chart below shows the pay raises for military and federal civilian employees over the last 30 years:

Here are the 12 most competitive Senate races in the country

Here are the 12 most competitive Senate races in the country

By Chris Cillizza,, aaron blake and sean sullivan September 14 at 11:37 AM

Now is the time in an election cycle where the tectonic political plates undergirding key Senate races begin to shift in real and meaningful ways. Millions are spent. Debates happen. People start paying attention.

And so, before we ranked the 12 most competitive races in the fight for the Senate majority this fall, we chatted — via e-mail — with a half dozen strategists in both parties to get their sense of which races are moving where. With a few exceptions, their impressions jibed — private polling rarely lies — and suggested that Republicans should feel good but not great about their chances of picking up the six seats they need to retake Senate control in November.

In pursuit of clarity, we’ve broken down their thoughts into three categories:

1) Races that Democrats feel good about/Republicans don’t.

2) Races that Republicans feel good about/Democrats don’t .

3) Races about which opinion is mixed.

Obviously this is not a comprehensive guide to where the races will end up, but it reflects the thinking of several well-connected operatives who are seeing lots and lots of good polling. (Note: These categories don’t include three open Democratic seats — West Virginia, South Dakota and Montana — that everyone agrees will flip to Republicans.)

Races that Democrats feel good about/Republicans don’t:

■ Colorado

■ Michigan

Races that Republicans feel good about/Democrats don’t:

■ Alaska

■ Arkansas

■ Kentucky

■ Louisiana

Races about which opinion is mixed:

■ Georgia

■ Iowa

■ Kansas

■ New Hampshire

■ North Carolina

Below are the races ranked on the likelihood that the seat will change hands.

11. (tie). Kansas (Republican-controlled): The most shocking entry on our list all year, this one’s a little complicated. Sen. Pat Roberts (R) clearly has problems. Democrat Chet Taylor dropped out of the race, which could help independent Greg Orman consolidate the anti-Roberts vote. But Taylor apparently didn’t do what he needed to in order to get his name off the ballot (litigation is ongoing), so this might be a three-way race anyway.

11. (tie) Kentucky (R): A look at the polling of late in the race between Sen. Mitch McConnell (R) and Secretary of State Alison Lundergan Grimes (D) suggests that the incumbent has opened up a mid-single-digit lead. That jibes with what strategists are seeing in unreleased data. McConnell’s team always insisted that once he united Republicans behind his candidacy, the numbers would shift toward him.

10. Colorado (Democratic-controlled): Rep. Cory Gardner (R) is a talented politician. Unfortunately for him, some of the votes and positions — particularly on personhood — during his time in the House are being effectively used by Democrats as a cudgel against him in the battle for the votes of suburban Denver women, whom he badly needs to beat Sen. Mark Udall (D).

9. Georgia (R): National Republican Senatorial Committee Vice Chairman Rob Portman (R-Ohio) sounded very confident about Republican David Perdue’s chances against Democrat Michelle Nunn at a Thursday breakfast with reporters. Recent polls have shown Perdue leading, on average.

8. Iowa (D): It seems as if Rep. Bruce Braley (D) has done just about everything he can to lose a race in which he was the favorite from the outset. Republican State Sen. Joni Ernst’s problem is twofold: She is being heavily outspent on TV, and the idea that she is too conservative for the state is starting to take hold.

7. North Carolina (D): President Obama’s recent visit to the state forced Sen. Kay Hagan (D) to walk a tightrope. She greeted him on the tarmac but distanced herself from him on veterans’ issues. Hagan will continue to have to strike a careful balance as her campaign against state House Speaker Thom Tillis (R) rolls on.

6. Alaska (D): Democratic Sen. Mark Begich’s decision to air a TV ad holding former attorney general Dan Sullivan (R) partly responsible for releasing a man from prison who later allegedly killed an elderly couple and sexually assaulted their grandchild backfired, taking a race that was solidifying in his favor and making it less favorable.

5. Arkansas (D): Republican Rep. Tom Cotton’s campaign hasn’t been the smoothest, but it’s looks as if it is going to be good enough. He has led in 10 of the last 11 public polls and enjoyed his biggest lead — points — in a high-quality NBC News/Marist College poll released last week.

4. Louisiana (D): Everyone agrees that Sen. Mary Landrieu (D) will finish far ahead of Rep. Bill Cassidy (R) and Rob Maness (R) in the Nov. 4 jungle primary. The problem for Landrieu is that no one thinks she will break the 50 percent mark, meaning that she will have to face off against the second-highest vote-getter — almost certainly Cassidy — in a Dec. 6 runoff. The runoff electorate — particularly if control of the Senate is at stake — isn’t going to be a friendly one for Landrieu.

3. West Virginia (D): Of the three open Democratic seats on our list where Mitt Romney won in 2012, West Virginia appears to be Democrats’ best chance of pulling off an upset. But that’s not saying much because the other two are virtual locks to flip Republican. The Real Clear Politics average of recent polling in this race shows Rep. Shelley Moore Capito (R) leading Secretary of State Natalie Tennant (D) by 19 points.

2. South Dakota (D): National Democrats have written off their nominee, Rick Weiland, from the outset. But there was a really interesting poll last week. The survey, from the automated-polling firm SurveyUSA, showed former governor Mike Rounds (R) leading Weiland 39 percent to 28 percent, with former GOP senator Larry Pressler (I) at 25 percent. In a race without Pressler, though, Weiland would be within the margin of error against the once-popular former governor.

1. Montana (D): Little-known state Rep. Amanda Curtis (D) is the replacement nominee for Sen. John Walsh (D), who dropped out over a plagiarism scandal. She’s no match for Rep. Steve Daines (R), who is firmly in control of this race.