A group of D.C.-area senators expressed their concern over guidance from the Office of Personnel Management (OPM) that asks federal employees affected by the shutdown to continue paying dental and vision insurance premiums.
In guidance issued on Wednesday to Federal employees, OPM advised employees if they do not receive pay for three consecutive pay periods, they will be billed directly for dental and vision benefits, instead of withholding from an employee’s paycheck when they receive their backpay. If employees do not continue to pay the premiums, their coverage may lapse.
“The above guidance will require Federal employees to tap into their savings and pay these costs or risk having their coverage terminated. We are alarmed that unpaid Federal employees will be required to incur this additional financial hardship during a time when they can least afford it. This is unacceptable,” wrote Sens. Mark Warner, D-Va., Tim Kaine, D-Va., Ben Cardin, D-Md., and Chris Van Hollen, D-Md., in a letter to OPM Acting Director Margaret Weichert.
While dental and vision benefits will be billed directly to employees if the shutdown extends further, OPM’s guidance notes that health benefits coverage and life insurance coverage will not be directly billed, and instead will be withheld from paychecks when appropriations are restored.
“We ask that you immediately work with Federal contractors administering these dental and vision benefits to develop alternative payment arrangements that ensure continuous coverage at no risk of terminated benefits. In addition, we ask that – upon any such agreement – you immediately reissue guidance to employees who are in jeopardy of having their benefits terminated,” the senators wrote.