Benefit reform backedReforming the Federal Employees Health...


Benefit reform backed

Reforming the Federal Employees Health Benefits Program will prevent the "roller coast effect on premium rates," the president of the National Treasury Employees Union (NTEU) said recently.

The NTEU, a carrier of that program, has "refused to reduce benefits to cut costs," NTEU President Robert Tobias said.

"The FEHBP system encourages employees to jump each yeato the plan with the benefits that suit their needs," he said. "So when a plan offers good benefits and reasonable rates, as NTEU did in 1991, enrollment skyrockets, as does the number of claims.

"When claims rise, costs rise, and FEHBP insurance carriermust cut benefits to cut costs -- or raise rates," he said. "NTEU has chosen to maintain our high level of FEHBO service, actually adding benefits to our plan and we have been forced by the FEHBP system to increase premiums to cover costs."

NTEU experienced a 16 percentage jump in enrollment in 1991As a result, NTEU's rates this year increased from $18.48 per pay period for self-only coverage to $42.68, and from $41.74 for family coverage to $102.52.

Added benefits to the NTEU plan in 1992 include coverage foPap smears and lung transplants.

NTEU supports FEHBO reform legislation introduced by RepGary Ackerman, D-NY, that would establish a single, low-cost, basic insurance plan for all enrollees (with a health maintenance organization alternative) with options for enrollees to purchase additional supplemental insurance.

Social Security accounts

The Social Security administrative accounts must be removed from federal deficit calculations, the president of a local union told Congress yesterday.

"Congress has been clear in its recognition that the trust fundare off-budget and unique," John Gage, president of the American Federation of Government Employees (AFGE) Local 1923 told the Social Security subcommittee of the House Ways and Means panel yesterday.

"The expenses of administering the Social Security programhave been paid from the trust funds, and have had no bearing on the general fund balance," he said. "For this reason, it is improper to subject them to the spending limitations imposed by the Budget Act of 1990."

Due to "political manipulation . . . and the unrelenting pressure othe general fund deficits" the Social Security program has been denied "adequate administrative funding over the past decade," Gage charged.

ZTC "AFGE believes that the time has come to correct the fundinmistakes which have been made in the recent past, and begin again to administer Social Security in the effective and efficient manner its millions of current and future beneficiaries deserve," he said.

"As the historical and legal records show, the status of thso-called 'administrative accounts' should not be an issue. We ask that you recognize this history, and use it to clarify this issue once and for all," he said.

Gage also said that AFGE supports the establishment of thSocial Security Administration as an independent agency, but emphasized that employee rights must be protected so that in the transition, those rights are not inadvertently lost or weakened.

He also offered AFGE's help in improving the accuracy anefficiency of the Social Security disability determination process.

Health hazards examined

The national president of the AFGE Monday flew to the Social Security Payment Center in Richmond, Calif., to discuss how to prevent federal workers from serious health hazards.

Last week there was an outbreak of Type A Legionnaire'Disease at the payment center, which was shut down after an investigation led union officials to believe a serious health hazard was evident in the building. Tests later determined that one janitorial employee had died of the disease.

"The welfare of the 1,200 workers at this federal facility is oparamount concern to this union," said John Sturdivant, AFGE national president. "We will not allow our members to enter this building until the union is completely satisfied that both they and the public will be safe from further exposure to this deadly bacteria."

Last week, the AFGE Local 1122 helped convince the SociaSecurity Administration to close its payment center in Richmond until an investigation could determine where the deadly bacteria were breeding.

Dave Mack, president of Local 1122, said that during discussion with the agency's physician, they discovered that two other janitors were stricken and in serious conditions, and that altogether 12 people were ill with pneumonia or other respiratory ailments.

Incompetence cited

The two pilots who flew the plane that crashed in April, killing Sen. John Heinz of Pennsylvania, were trained by someone who was later suspended for incompetence. All three worked for a company that had been in trouble recently for inadequately training its pilots.

The plane crashed while the pilots were attempting to allow helicopter to fly close by to see if the aircraft's landing gear was down -- a maneuver aviation textbooks warn is dangerous.

Those are among the conclusions of the National TransportatioSafety Board's final report.

Heinz and six others were killed on April 4 when the Aerostaplane he was on collided with the helicopter.

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