The Obama administration on Tuesday will publish a proposed rule that would give thousands of temporary and seasonal government workers access to the government's health care program, even though current law would appear to prohibit them from using that program.
The rule from the Office of Personnel Management would let these federal workers sign up for coverage under the Federal Employees Health Benefits Program, and also allow some of them to enjoy a government contribution to their insurance premiums. Both steps would be done through OPM's proposed regulation, and not through an act of Congress.
President Barack Obama is looking to expand health coverage for temporary and seasonal federal workers, and wants to do so by regulation, not legislation. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite, File)
The proposed rule indicates that OPM is trying to expand health coverage for workers who work a full-time schedule, using Obamacare's definition of full-time work (at least 30 hours a week), but not for a full year.
But the change would appear to go against a 1978 law that, according to the Congressional Research Service, does not make temporary or intermittent workers eligible for the FEHB program. (An earlier version of this story said the change would violate Obamacare, but OPM confirmed to TheBlaze that Obamacare does not set any conditions on FEHB eligibility.)
Today, temporary federal workers with less than a year of service can't enroll in FEHB. Seasonal employees working six months or less are also prohibited, as are many intermittent employees. And temporary workers with more than a year of service can sign up, but get no government contribution.
OPM's rule would change all that:
"This proposed rule would allow newly eligible employees (employees on an appointment limited to one year and employees working on a seasonal or intermittent schedule) to initially enroll under the FEHB program with a government contribution to premium if they are expected to be employed on a full-time schedule and are expected to work for at least 90 days," the proposed rule states.
It would also let temporary employees with more than a year of service "to enroll in a FEBH plan… (with a government contribution to premium) if the employee is determined by his or her employing office to be newly eligible for FEHB coverage under this regulation."
The proposed rule indicates that OPM is not very clear on how much these changes would cost taxpayers, and is seeking comment on that aspect of the rule. It did say it expects that the rule should not be seen as economically significant, since it believes it would cost less than $100 million.
OPM reaches that conclusion by assuming that only 10 to 20 percent of currently ineligible federal workers would sign up for an FEHB plan. But a quick calculation using OPM's own figures indicates that the cost could be much higher than that.
OPM estimates that about 1 to 2 percent of the federal workforce is now not eligible for an FEHB plan — with an estimated 2.6 million federal workers, that's something on the order of 25,000 to 50,000 people.
OPM also estimates that it costs $700 a month to put a worker on an FEHB plan, or $8,400 a year.
If 50,000 ineligible federal workers signed up for an FEHB plan, that would cost the government about $400 million. OPM's estimate that only 20 percent at most would sign up would bring that cost down to $80 million a year.
A determination that the rule is economically significant would trigger a broader review of the proposal by other agencies.
This story has been updated and corrected.
Read OPM's rule here: