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Federal employees who are working at least 130 hours a month could be impacted by a recent proposal from the Office of Personnel Management to expand health benefits eligibility.

In July, the OPM proposed a rule to expand eligibility for employees to enroll in the Federal Employees Health Benefits Program (FEHBP). These would include temporary, ­seasonal and intermittent employees who are working “full-time,” which the OPM redefined as 130 hours in a calendar month, and who have been on the job at least 90 days.

Currently, temporary employees with more than a year of service are able to participate in FEHBP, but do not qualify for a government contribution. If the proposal becomes a regulation, government agencies would pay a contribution to temporary, seasonal and intermittent employees’ benefits. Federal workers who would now be eligible have long wanted for better coverage under the government’s employer-sponsored health insurance plans. In its proposal, the OPM said it wants “to ensure, to the greatest extent practicable, that full-time employees…are eligible to enroll in FEHB.”

Last month, the National Treasury Employees Union (NTEU) released a statement praising the proposal and urging more expansion.

“This is a welcome step for important groups of federal employees that have been excluded from the FEHBP,” NTEU President Colleen M. Kelley said. “OPM should encourage agencies to begin identifying newly eligible existing employees so these individuals have the opportunity to enroll at the earliest possible time.”

While some are lauding the OPM’s proposed health benefits expansion, others are questioning the merits and legality of the proposal. Sen. Tom Coburn (R-Oklahoma) wrote a letter to OPM Director Katherine Archuleta detailing his concerns about the proposed rule. He questioned whether expanding the benefits is legal and that it would violate current law that excludes temporary employees from receiving health benefits before one year of current continuous employment.

“I am concerned the proposed rule may be inconsistent with current federal law, which appears to prohibit eligibility of temporary employees for both the FEHBP and full government contribution under the conditions you established,” Coburn wrote in his letter.

Coburn concluded by requesting the OPM explain how the rule can comply with current law. Comments for or against the proposal were due by August 28, 2014. We will keep you updated on this issue as it unfolds.

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