Plan to raise retirees' health costs is defeated


WASHINGTON -- A legislative effort spearheaded by Sen. Barbara A. Mikulski, D-Md., and Maryland Rep. Steny H. Hoyer, D-5th, has effectively nullified an Office of Personnel Management plan that would have forced federal retirees to pay more for health coverage.

The legislation, which was expected to be signed by President Bush, prevents OPM from receiving funds for any action that would increase federal retirees' health insurance payments.

The OPM proposal would have forced federal retirees to pay more for doctor visits and prescription drugs under the Federal Employees Health Benefits Plan.

In May, Ms. Mikulski sent a letter to OPM expressing concern about the "devastating effects" the proposal would have on retired federal workers, who constitute one-third of all individuals covered by FEHBP.

"This discriminates against senior citizens who pay as much for their FEHBP plan as anyone else in the program," Ms. Mikulski said in the May letter to OPM Director Constance Berry Newman. "They should not be singled out for cuts."

OPM said the plan was intended to encourage senior citizens to shop for low-cost care and pharmaceuticals, rather than relying on FEHBP to pay their prescription and physicians' fees regardless of the price.

But an aide to Ms. Mikulski said it is often difficult for senior citizens, especially those living in rural areas, to shop for doctors. Those doctors they do find often do not charge the minimum Medicare rate, and the OPM plan would force retirees to pay the balance, the aide said.

OSHA REPORT: The U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration "knows little about federal agencies' safety and health programs and their effectiveness in protecting workers from occupational injuries and illnesses," according to a recent report by the congressional watchdog agency.

The General Accounting Office said in the report that OSHA is unable to perform its monitoring function up to speed and is out of touch with federal workplaces. OSHA has been relying on sporadic, on-site inspections rather than the preferred approach of program evaluations and reviews combined with on-site inspections, said the GAO report.

Dorothy L. Strunk, acting assistant secretary of OSHA, defended her agency's record in a letter included in the report. "The overall federal civilian employee injury/illness rate per 100 full-time workers has declined by more than 30 percent in a little more than a decade, from 7.3 in 1979 to 5.1 in 1991," she wrote.

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