Health proposal makes concession Employees would move en masse to new care alliances


WASHINGTON -- President Clinton's health care reform plan makes a key concession to federal employees with a proposal to shift them en masse into health care purchasing alliances.

But the president's plan remains vague on providing supplemental benefits to retirees.

After initially proposing to phase out the Federal Employees Health Benefits (FEHB) program in stages over the next five years, the administration now proposes to shift all federal employees from FEHB to health care purchasing alliances at the start of 1998.

Federal employee unions had pushed for the change, hoping to avoid a bureaucratic mess as states moved 9 million federal employees

into the alliances at varying speeds.

"It's a step in the right direction," says Diane Witiak, a spokeswoman for the American Federation of Government Employees. "Our goal is to avoid federal employees having to pay more for less benefits."

Rep. William Clay, D-Mo., chairman of the House Post Office and Civil Service Committee, issued a statement saying the proposal would ensure that the transition between insurance systems would be the "least disruptive, most rational, and most orderly" possible.

Mr. Clay says he lobbied Hillary Rodham Clinton not to phase in the elimination of the FEHB.

The leading Republican health care alternatives would retain FEHB.

Under the Clinton plan, workers who retire before Jan. 1, 1998, would be able to get supplemental health benefits from the government if they so desire. Some benefits now available under FEHB would not be available under the president's plan.

After that date, the Clinton plan would allow -- but not require -- the Office of Personnel Management to offer supplemental benefits to retirees.

Judy Park, legislative director of the National Association of Retired Federal Employees, says she wants the administration proposal clarified.

"Where is the OPM going to get the money to provide that level of benefits if the budget is still the bugaboo it is now?" she asks.

Mr. Clay, in his statement, also said this proposal needs work.

"While I am not completely satisfied with the supplemental benefits language . . . I am confident that the committee can work with the administration and arrive at an amicable agreement," he said.

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