Misgivings about OPM's Role in ObamaCare

The Affordable Care Act (aka: ObamaCare) requires the establishment and management of insurance “exchanges.” These exchanges will sell health insurance to those who want it, or who want to avoid the consequences of not having health insurance. With millions of potential customers, this is a big job, calling for organizational and planning skills, problem solving, etc. The agency designated for this job is the Office of Personnel Management (OPM).

For years, OPM has been deluged with complaints about the poor service they render to recently retired federal employees. Earlier this year, John Berry, OPM Director, was obliged to testify before committees of both the house and the senate. Overwhelmingly, the concerns have been about the institutional slowness of determining the correct annuity amount, and about the sharply discounted—sometimes more than 50%—interim payments while waiting for the determination. (See The Trouble With OPM)

When Mr. Berry was asked why his employees are able to do only three annuity calculations daily, on average, he said he did not know.* When asked for his plan to improve service, he had nothing to offer.

After the hearings, Mr. Berry had an epiphany. Give me (whatever) million dollars and I will hire approximately 100 new workers, and then we will be okay. (See Back to the Future: OPM and the Federal Employee Retirement Tsunami)

Well, months ago he got the money, hired the new employees, and now everything is still not okay. The annuity claims backlog stands at 48,323, bad news by any standard. Throwing money at the problem was not, apparently, the answer.

Former OPM director Linda Springer has said that OPM is not up to the job and not structured for a task of this magnitude with the result that the agency would be overwhelmed (See What Impact Will the Health Care Ruling Have on Federal Employees?). Ms. Springer should know, and I would only add that the agency is already overwhelmed and struggling with their existing workload – this new mission can only make it worse. (See OPM Slowly Whittling Away at Retirement Applications)

Can the law be amended? Will Congress decide to place this key, heavy responsibility elsewhere? For the sake of current and future retirees, I fervently hope so!

My website: fedbens.us

* There are progressively greater numbers of FERS employees retiring, which means more and more annuity supplements must be calculated. Lacking dedicated software for this, annuity supplement calculations each take two hours. THIS is the problem. Nearly everybody involved with annuity processing at OPM knows this; Mr. Berry’s sworn testimony before Congress indicates he is, apparently, one of the few that does not know.

© 2016 Robert F. Benson. All rights reserved. This article may not be reproduced without express written consent from Robert F. Benson.

About the Author

Robert Benson served 35 years in various Federal agencies, as both a management analyst and IT specialist. He is a graduate of Northwestern University.

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  1. TexasBornCitizen says:

    Not being properly informed (poosibly) it would seem that instead of hiring a huge amout of empolyees at a huge expense for training, orientation, and wages they would take a more productive starting point to hiring an impartial team of analysts tofind out what is broken in the present system. That would allow those in the position of arranging the process to fix the issues that need correcting and make it more efficient. I would think that it would put the money involved to improve it would be better used for this purpose. This would make the financial outlay a one-time event withthe result of better service, more efficient use of time, and ultimately a progressive trimming of the backlog and at a less overall expense. Maybe I’m oversimplifying things but it would make sense to me.

  2. Maria Bianchini says:

    Mr. Benson should have done a little homework about OPM’s internal structure. Retirement services is not the department tasked with administrating the ACA programs. The departments that are administering the two exisiting programs are sucessfully doing so.

    Be careful – the only thing mixing apples and oranges produces is fruit salad!

  3. Montanan says:

    OPM can’t provide timely service to retirees who are waiting up to a year to get the right paycheck.  The pool of retirees is only a fraction of the size of the pool that OPM will have to deal with for Obamacare.  The only people that cannot see where this is going, are the grateful dead.

  4. Pluto says:

    The author seems to have left out this info: “The 2010 Affordable
    Care Act (ACA) gives states the option to establish one or more state
    or regional exchanges, partner with the federal government to run
    the exchange, or to merge with other state exchanges. If a state chooses
    not to create an exchange, the federal government will set up the
    exchange(s) in the state.”  Hopefully, since States supervise insurance companies operating in their States, they’ll also operate the exchanges in their States.  Maybe some governors who are resisting the ACA will not.

  5. Retired LR says:

    Berry is incompetent–replace him! Get someone in there with quality control and statisitcal “black belt” certifications…we are not denigrating the US civil service…but let’s face it with Obama, Holder, Napolitano, and Berry —you have to admit their track record, and wilful disregard for laws is evident.

  6. Rwil730 says:

    There is no statute entitled “ObamaCare.”

  7. Jmaclennan says:

    Give me a break.  Assigning it to OPM was always intended to be a poisen pill.

  8. Danl_P says:

    OPM can’t get a correct retirement check to a Fed until six months after retirement, even with six months notice of retirement. what kind of a fool would think these bozos could manage a health care exchange? Oh, I forgot. Pelosi, Reid and Obama.

  9. grannybunny says:

    For those opposed to OPM administering the program, what — if anything — is your alternative proposal?  Create an entirely-new agency/bureaucracy?  OPM already successfully manages the FEHBP, the existing program that most closely resembles the new health insurance exchanges, making it the most likely candidate among existing agencies.

    • HRguru says:

      Why do we need a regulated exchange in the first place?  I don’t need an exchange to buy a television set or auto insurance.  It’s a totally unnecessary entity. 

      • grannybunny says:

        You may live in Massachusetts, where — thanks to RomneyCare — almost everyone is insured.  However, in Texas, where I live — the state with the highest percentage of uninsured residents — most of the uninsured lack insurance because they cannot locate health insurance policies they can afford.  It’s my understanding that a primary purpose of the exchanges is to assist the uninsured in accessing affordable coverage.  Car insurance is not a necessity — unlike health care, not everyone uses car insurance — but it is, nevertheless, highly regulated, to insure that the insurance companies are guaranteed a profit.

        • truth says:

          for sure, no one should be allowed to profit in business. But you’d be the first to complain that your TSP investments are down.

        • HRguru says:

          OK, so why is an exchange needed that’s set up by each state and run by OPM?

          • grannybunny says:

            Again, it’s my understanding that it is to assist the uninsured in locating affordable coverage, but, frankly, anyone in the market for health insurance – whether or not already insured – would benefit from having information about all of the available policies accessible at a single source.

        • HRguru says:

          What I mean is, if a law were passed by the Federal government that stated, “Any insurance company licensed in any state can sell insurance in any other state” doesn’t this accomplish that?   The real issue is that they want OPM to ensure that each plan is “qualified” and “approved” and they are setting up this function for that purpose alone.  It seems completely unnecessary, regardless of whether you agree with the purpose of the legislation or not.

          • grannybunny says:

            If the Federal government tried to force a state to allow an insurance company to operate in that state solely because it was licensed in another state — possibly, a state with less regulation and consumer protection — it would be violating state sovereignty, unconstitutional under the 10th Amendment.  The exchanges will provide comprehensive marketplaces where all available policies can be compared.  I am still working and have health insurance through FEHBP, which is an exchange of sorts.  When I retire, it would be helpful to have a non-FEHBP exchange through which I could compare all of the available health insurance policies in my state.

          • HRguru says:

            Incorrect.  The federal government can regulate interstate trade and does this all of the time.  Corporations exist nationally and are set up in Delaware typically-  same idea.  In addition, the exchanges are required of the states anyway and run by OPM- how is that not an even more complex implementation of the exact same idea?

          • grannybunny says:

            Please read the 193-page Supreme Court decision on the Affordable Care Act (ACA).  It severely restricts Congress’ ability to henceforth regulate interstate commerce.  And, of course, the licensing of insurance companies has always fallen exclusively within the purviews of the states, not the Feds.  It is my understanding that the states have — at least — 3 options with regard to the exchanges.  According to our Governor, the state in which I reside — Texas — will be opting not to create an exchange and not to, otherwise, participate in the ACA.

          • guestwo says:

            It restricted congress’ power.  It did not eliminate it.  Second, stop ignoring the facts.  If states want to alow insurance companies to croos state lines is your Obama going to sue them to stop?  Yes!  Why?  Because Obamacare takes care of that and if 21 taxes go into effect that is your problem taxpayer!!!

    • truth says:

       um.. granybunny….maybe they should have thought about that before they crammed the law through?

      OPM represents federal employees ONLY — it is NOT the personnel office for EVERYONE IN AMERICA!  And that the head of OPM is not a cabinet member requiring approval from Congress to run such an ENORMOUS program that is 18% of the US economy.

      In fact, if a republican was president, you probably wouldn’t like, grannybunny, his/her own appointment to OPM running this .. without Congressional vetting … would you?

      The stupidity of folks falling on their sword supporting this hot mess of a law keeps going.

      When does this insanity end?

      • GunnyRet03 says:

        Well said!
        All the opposition to Obamacare was correct. Just like the raises in taxes. People were saying once Obama got reelected taxes would be raised. Now Obama supporters are shocked at losing additional money in their paycheck so what is the reaction? Uh well Romney would have done the same thing. Obama voters are simply delusional.

  10. msgrowan says:

    OPM has a troubled history of managerial inability to carry through on major complex projects.  Beside the current problems OPM has in administering the civil service retirement program desribed in the article, let’s remember the even earlier RETIRE-EZ fiasco, which sought unsuccessfully to automate the still-in-use antediluvian manual civil service retirement application processing methodology (being fair, this earlier debacle occurred on Ms. Springer’s watch).  OPM’s floundering and embarrassingly inept launching of the USAJOBS 3.0 platform on their website over a year and a half ago must, however, be chalked up entirely to Mr. Berry.  He even went so far regarding that flub as to deride – unintentionally  but clearly – his senior executive career staff when he was quoted as saying that they were essentially clueless about resolving the public relations diasater and had to turn to more IT-savvy junior staff to finally bring the USAJOBS 3.0 fiasco to an end.  Etc., etc., etc. (with apologies to Yul Brenner.)  To put OPM in charge of any significant component of the health care reform legislation is akin to entrusting the Keystone Kops with the responsibility for our southern border security and crossing one’s fingers (though given the problems that DHS and DOJ have been experiencing on the southern border, maybe the Kops would do a better job after all).  Indeed, the best way to kill Obamacare may be to give OPM even greater reponsibility for its implementation; This reminds one of the old saying (usually attributed to various Eastern European nations):  “With friends like this who needs enemies.”

    • Guest says:

       I have to agree.   CSRS retiree here.  Now at month 7 post retirement and still no OPM
      calculation or even a letter from them.  They don’t answer calls and
      they take 60 days to respond to an e-mail.  No idea if OPM is
      responsible for Obamacare management, but I sincerely hope they are

  11. fedworker says:

    Pronoun missing Fedsmith.   Who has misgivings?  The Editors at Fedsmith?   This shouldn’t be an insurmountable problem given some attention.  These sorts of headlines are must meant to disparage the law rather than to be informative.

    • truth says:

       did you even read the article?  It’s written by a guest author, who provides his opinion/insight.  Under your terms, no publisher should be allowed to publish viewpoints.  It appears you only read headlines, and then post attacks on the publisher that they “must meant to disparage the law rather than to be informative.”

  12. macvtm18 says:

    They should defund the program and at the same time present a conservative healthcare plan that would not require all the taxes to make it work. Things like allowing insurance across state lines. Preserving the Doctor Patient relationship and keeping the feds out of the equation. Let free enterprise be part of the team setting a new healthcare plan in motion.

  13. Former Fed says:

    OMG. I thought the headline for this story was a joke! I retired under FERS in 2011 When I went to my pre-retirement session in 2010 with an OPM worker my records had two tiny errors – wrong start date and wrong end date. They were off by over a year for each. It was nine months after I retired before I received my full annuity. I can’t think of one of my fellow retirees who has had a positive experience with OPM.

  14. Dusty299 says:

    Lets give credit where credit is due……..this is the  President’s mess……..it is a plan  to fail for the best health care system in the world……..it disregards a fundamental law of human nature…….when you give away other working peoples money to carry those not working……….you perpetuate a willingness not to work and make your own way…….it  was passed as the result of closed door, back door practices simply because when  the light of day is shone on  it, it is  an attempt to fix something that is not broken.  There are no individuals refused health care.   The law of unintended consequences will teach once again, that just like the last time the  health care system was deluged with access during the influenza  mess in 1918 when the system totally collapsed not due to people that were sick.  The system was so overloaded with people worried about being sick that those with the virus, couldn’t get in until they passed it around……… I hope I am wrong. 

    • grannybunny says:

      Your hope has been fulfilled.  You are wrong about America’s health care system being the best in the World, that it’s not broken, and that there are no individuals denied health care.  Among the reasons why our Country lags behind most of the rest of the industrialized countries in infant mortality and other successful healthcare outcomes are that access is — primarily — market-based, and fees are based on services provided, not outcomes.  Large swaths of our population are priced out of the health care market, with the exception of Emergency Rooms, which are legally required to provide the minimum of care necessary to stabilize the patient.  Obviously, ER care for someone whose condition has worsened into an emergency is many times more expensive than preventive care and/or a routine office visit and Rx would have been.  Individuals are forced into bankruptcy because of high medical bills, as is our entire Country, through its Medicare and Medicaid programs, which — apparently — you oppose, since they represent services to “those not working” (as does Social Security).

      • truth says:

         yet Obamacare solves none of the problems you mentioned, but is now estimated to cost nearly $3 trillion, and more than 80% of doctors are planning to retire.  Also, the citizens of these “industrialized nations” you refer to also pay about 60% in taxes, and most of those nations are knee deep in debt, and their currencies are in trouble. 

  15. macvtm18 says:

    Wait till ObamaCare kicks in. You won’t be able to get anything without
    getting in line. Already the FDA has single-handedly created the most massive
    drug shortages in our history. And why? What’s changed? The only thing that’s
    changed is the regulatory attitude of the bureaucrats, emboldened and sanctioned
    by the socialist regime that’s intent on killing the best medical system in the
    world. If you have to ask why — you need to wake up.

    • grannybunny says:

      To what medical system are you referring as “the best…in the world?”  The American health care system is broken and our Nation lags behind most of the rest of the developed countries in access, outcomes and cost.  That’s exactly why we needed health care reform, which led to the passage of “CongressCare,” since the legislative branch did not exactly deliver the plan proposed by the President.

      • macvtm18 says:

        Keep drinking the marxist koolade you friggin idiot  !!!!! Someone should push you off a cliff  !!!!!

        • truth says:

           rest assured, her vote doesn’t count, she lives in Texas.  It must be frustrating for her. boo hoo.

          • Disgusted with Congress says:

            Thinking people fervently hope that Texas will seced. 
            If only Bush could have been King of Texas instead of President!
            What a great country (with a balenced budget) America would be if Bush hadn’t stolen the election, wrecked the budget by paying off his rich friends, and invaded Iraq.

          • guestwo says:

            Yeah it was Bush who ran uo the deifcit by 5Tn in 2009-2012.  Oh no, it was your Obama. 

      • Danl_P says:

        Grannybunny, you need to get out more and read facts, not Democrat talking points. BTW, it is not dissing the Country for suggesting the government in not efficient and difficult to change. that is the way it was designed. 
        The House of representatives was designed to have massive turnover as the people sent popular people to represent them. They were the only ones that could create a tax because they could be fired in two years. A career in the House was never envisioned.
        The Senate was designed to represent the states. The states would send real statesmen to provide a leveling to the raucus House. Direct election ruined the Senate by allowing amatuers to get elected. Like the bozo Illinois put up against an unbeatable Senator who quit because he coudn’t keep his pants on when away from home.

      • overpaidCS says:

        you can thank trial lawters for all the short comings

        • grannybunny says:

          Actually, I believe it was the nemeses of trial lawyers — assuming that’s what you meant by “lawters” — that is, insurance companies.

    • VAemp says:

      The FDA hasn’t created the drug shortages it’s the drug manufacturers.  If a company making a generic drug isn’t making enough money they stop making it regardless if it will cause a shortage in the marketplace.  Also the FDA shuts down manufacturering facilities when drug makers try to increase profits by ignoring the need to perform necessary maintenance and keep their facilities clean.

  16. Get your facts straight says:

    Ah you better do some fact checking.  The Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services within HHS is establishing and managing the exchanges, not OPM.

    Also, Obamacare is a derogatory term used to deride the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act.  Why not use the correct title and not a one used as a slight to the sitting president of the United States of America?

    • HRGuy71 says:

      I don’t pretend to be any expert on obamacare but I have seen articles about OPM’s role in the health care exchanges which would indicate the article today is correct. For example: (http://www.federaltimes.com/ar

      With regard to the use of the term obamacare, I thought our dear leader had given the public permission to start using the term and that the “progressives” who are quick to take offense have embraced the term (perhaps because there is an election coming up and there is no getting away from this albatross around his neck as he runs for re-election anyway)


      • RWS says:

         OPM will negotiate the plans with the insurance companies, but Health and Human Services is actually managing the exchanges.

    • Guest says:

       Sir, with all due respect, it is Obamacare.  Please read HRGuy71’s comment and you, sir, need to do some fact checking before making any comment.  Let me, and I believe all of us remind you that FedSmith is for the “informed” Federal worker and Federal retirees. 

    • Joel Hammer says:

      Also, Obamacare is a derogatory term used to deride the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act.  Why not use the correct title and not a one used as a slight to the sitting president of the United States of America?

      I totally agree. I was furious when I saw this headline. I wish I had his email address so I could communicate that to him directly. If anyone knows who is reading this post, please send it to me…

      • LER Specialist says:

        I suspect thousands of people are reading this post since, after all, it’s on the Internet. 🙂

      • Me says:

        From the same people who have been saying “The Bush Tax Cuts”  for 12 years.

      • truth says:

        The term “Obamacare” is only a derogatory term to those who still blindly support what is was promised to be by Obama (and Pelosi and Reid) but is not.

         if the law is so great, why are folks “furious” about what people call it, rather than touting the greatness of its full attributes (not just the few that everyone likes)? Why isn’t Obama out on the campaign trail talking about how great it is?

        Because Obama, and his supporters, cannot explain why the majority of American voters dislike the totality of what this law is — a tax, a mandate to purchase something from insurance companies (enforced by govt.) , a nearly $3 trillion additional debt, and not in anyway a reform of our healthcare system.

    • LVRichardson says:

      Hmmm.  Obama is his name, and the PPACA is his “signature legislation”, so not sure why the little hissy fit.  The fact is, the American people did not need or want this legislation, but President Obama used a technical anomaly to jam it through Congress, wasting enormous political capital along the way, and wasting the opportunity to do something truly meaningful about the ailing economy.

    • WeatherGuy says:

      You need to check your facts.

      OPM.gov has lots of referances to its role in ObamaCare, but an insurace web site, says it the best

      “The federal Office of Personnel Management must contract with health insurance carriers to offer at least two multi-state qualified health plans through each exchange in each state. OPM can do this without going through the competitive bidding process. These plans will provide individual and/or small group coverage”

      Ultimately it’s the individual state responsibility to run the system, but the federal government (OPM) plays its part to provide basic insurance just in case the state does not want to participate.

      As far as ObamaCare being derogatory, I would agree, BUT if the Act was more popular it would not so insulting. If the Act was worthy of campaigning on, the President would be saying it more. As is I believe he has called the Act  as ObamaCare (no reference) himself, and the Democrat Committee of Orange County , SHOUTS the word ObamaCare proudly on its web site Posted June 28th at 7:54 with a picture of the flag and the President.   https://www.facebook.com/democ

      I dont pretend to be a expert, I find facts that back my expertise.

    • overpaidCS says:

      Your right he’s a sittimg president he hasn’t done anything

  17. steve5656546346 says:

    Look, we all know how the Federal government works:  its very nature is legal, regulatory, and political.  It doesn’t work well, because it can’t work well.  Indeed, it is not at all clear that the Founders WANTED efficient government.

    The government operates on 3 hearts:  HR, Procurement, and Budget.  We all know the problems inherent in all three operations.  The endless appeals in HR.  OPM not even agreeing with itself on HR issues.  The problems with the FAR.  The problems with Federal budgeting.  And the interjection of politics into ALL of them.  And the problems associated with the enormous size of the Federal government.

    So, we all know WHY Obamacare will not work, and cannot work.

    • grannybunny says:

      I’m so tired of hearing people dis America and our system of government.  It’s still the greatest Nation on Earth, with the best system of government.  Don’t let the current partisan political Congressional gridlock get you down.  The voters are sick of it, and “this, too, shall pass.”

      • HRguru says:

        It’s such a great system that it can’t tolerate constructive feedback from even those wanting good governance?  Wonderful.

        • grannybunny says:

          No, constructive criticism is welcome and needed.  It’s all this griping, with no alternative proposals that’s gotten entirely tiresome.

          • truth says:

            so, where is your constructive criticism/alternatives on Obamacare?… or, I mean the “Affordable Care Act”?   We are all awaiting your lengthy detail

          • HRguru says:

            There are countless alternatives, many of which can be read outside of the WAPO and NYT.   I happen to like the concept of interstate exchange of plans, but that can be accomplished by law without setting up these regulatory bodies.  States are restraining interstate trade of health insurance due to historical roles and the federal government has a role there. We agree on that.  

            But buy in of people like me was never contemplated with this bill and while there are a few things worth supporting, it’s the other 2700 pages that is worrisome.  

          • overpaidCS says:

            Berry got millions and did what with the $$???

          • grannybunny says:

            Added additional staff, which is chipping away at the enormous backlog.  All of this has been very thoroughly reported in FedSmith.

          • guestwo says:

            Yeah, forget automation and computers.  And in further developments Berry announced that all employees will be issued an abacus, new pencils, and a ream of paper. 

      • truth says:

         the only person I know that is LOUDLY criticizing our system of government is Obama… whining about how he can’t get his way, so he will move outside of Congress.  I think he calls it “transforming America” or something.

      • overpaidCS says:

        I agree the problem are federal workers who don’t care refuse to do their jobs and are unaccountable

        • grannybunny says:

          Self-loathing government employees like yourself — if retired AF are considered former government employees — are also particularly irksome.  You may have been overpaid, didn’t care, refused to do your job and been unaccountable, but that’s not typical of government employees.  To the contrary, you are engaging in what psychologists refer to as “projection,” projecting your faults onto others; there is treatment available for both self-loathing and projection.

        • Federalist says:

           Federal workers are like broken guns.  They don’t work and you can’t fire them.

    • Girl Geek says:

      There is a big difference in how non-profit and government agencies run compared to a profit environment.
      If an entity is turning a profit, they don’t play games or politics and non-performers get fired – period.
      In non-profit or government alot of the operations are based on politics, friendships, quid pro quo,
      and the employee skill of brown-nosing. If you can’t brown-nose, you will not go far in a non-profit or government agency.