Opening the Federal Health Plan to All Americans: How Do Federal Employees Respond?

Most readers are opposed to opening up the federal employee health plan to all Americans and support of a proposal to do so makes readers less likely to vote for the candidate. Here are the results of our recent survey.

A few days ago, we posted a survey on the topic of “Opening the FEHB to All Americans.” The survey was conceived as a result of a recent proposal by Hillary Clinton (D-NY) who has proposed opening up the program to all Americans.

Health care is a significant issue for some voters. For many federal employees, health care may not be a determining issue in deciding which candidate to vote for in next year’s presidential election but, if the benefits offered by the Federal Health Benefits Plan were potentially going to be changed in a significant way, the issue would become more important.

Health care is obviously a hot topic on the presidential campaign trail with different candidates taking a different approach. Not surprisingly, we do not know the details of how such a program would work. Any candidate hoping to win votes is not going to rush to explain who would be impacted, potentially in negative ways, as that would turn off potential voters. Most politicians prefer to speak in broad terms and work out the details after the election. No doubt, this program will fall into the same pattern.

Federal employees as a whole are probably more used to dealing with the promises of politicians than most Americans as issues arise in national elections that will impact federal agencies. Many FedSmith readers end up developing or implementing the details of programs after the election results are in that may or may not work out as intended.

The results of this poll, which was taken by more than 1600 readers, show there is little support for opening up the FEHB to all Americans. And, by the way, the definition of who is an “American” may not mean the same thing to all people. A few readers who commented expressed concern about opening up the concept of health insurance for people who are working here illegally.

They may be perceptive in their concerns. Dick Morris, who is not a fan of the policies advocated by Senator Clinton, recently observed: “In her program, she speaks of how health care is the right of every ‘American’ – but she has a rather expansive definition of ‘American.’ In 2005, Hillary co-sponsored legislation in the United States Senate to offer free health insurance, under the State Child Health Insurance Program (SCHIP) to the children of illegal immigrants who have lived in the United States for five years. So, those who have dodged the immigration cops for five years successfully would be rewarded not only with legal status and a path to citizenship, but with immediate free health care for their children.”

One of the missing details in the proposal is how the term “American” would be defined. If the proposal were to include coverage for people who are illegally in this country, the results of the poll may have been even more definitive.

Here is a quick summary of the results of this poll:

Are you in favor of opening the federal health benefits plan to all Americans?

yes 292 18% 1661
no 1208 73% 1661
undecided 161 10% 1661

Would opening the FEHB to all Americans increase or decrease the value of the FEHB for federal employees?

increase value of benefit 95 6% 1661
decrease value of benefit 1283 77% 1661
no difference in the value of the benefit 174 10% 1661
undecided 109 7% 1661

Would opening the FEHB to all Americans be likely to increase or decrease the cost of health insurance for federal employees?

increase costs 1264 76% 1661
decrease costs 170 10% 1661
no difference in costs 92 6% 1661
undecided 135 8% 1661

Does support of a proposal to open the FEHB to all Americans make you more or less likely to vote for a candidate?

More likely to vote for a candidate 195 12% 1661
Less likely to vote for a candidate 1068 64% 1661
Makes no difference in how I would vote 239 14% 1661
undecided 159 10% 1661

In short, most readers do not favor opening up the FEHB to all Americans–even if the term is not used to include people who are in the country illegally.

Here is a sample of the comments from readers reflecting the most common points of view submitted in response to the survey.

A manager with the Dept. of Energy in Sandia, NM wrote: “This would be tantamount to the end of the FEHB benefit for federal employees. Anyone who thinks otherwise is clearly not in tune with reality.”

An employee from DCMA in Huntington Beach, CA commented: “This will increase the cost of the insurance and increase all of the deductibles. Why don’t you just have the Federal employees pay heath insurance and bills for all non-federal employees and let’s not forget, let’s pay for all the illegal alien health insurance TOO!”

A nurse with the VA in Erie, PA had this suggestion: “If Hillary or any of the other candidates want to get really serious about health care reform then they must get behind and support the movement for a “one-payer” health care system! ”

A revenue agent with the IRS in San Jose, CA stated: “We need to do something about health care for all Americans but not at the expense of the federal employee.”

An administrative support assistant with the Forest Service in Quincy, CA said: “This is one benefit I wouldn’t want to see “shared” with non-Government people. They haven’t put their years in to earn it.”

A deployment specialist with DoD at Ft. McPherson, GA sees this outcome as a possibility: “For one thing, Federal Employees are just that, employeed and do contribute to the cost of their health care. Since not all Americans work and would not pay part of the costs, that leaves the workers paying for the non workers, again.”

A human resources manager with DoD in Columbus, GA sent in this analysis: “Only 15% of American do not have health insurance, and of that 15%, 33% can pay for health insurance, but choose not to because they spend their money on other luxury items like cable TV, a newer model car, etc. Set up a seperate health care system for those 15%, but don’t lump them in with the Fed Employees. This will burden the current system meant to provide for the FED employees.”

An IRS manager from Boston, MA sees a disaster looming: “It will turn into another Medicare/medicaid fiasco!!”

An analyst with the Navy in San Diego, CA analyzed the situation this way: “The cost will go up and so will the taxes to support the off set of the government side of the payment. We will be out of money for Medicare and now you want us to be out of money for the FEHB. Try again. Get it right.”

An IT support specialist with DoD in San Antonio sees political implications in the proposal: “My vote just got lost for the candidate who opens FEHB to all Americans because it is a benefit to government employees. I will also rally not to vote for this candidate. Will all americians be able to pay what I have to pay?”

A human resources specialist with the Forest Service in Eugene, Oregon sees the proposal as doing away with the group concept of health insurance: “Current plans coverage, costs and demographics of the Government FEHB plan is based on variables that would DRAMATICALLY change if these plans were open to all Americans. A National health plan is needed, but these are “Group” plans and have been designed around that concept.”

An administrative assistant with the National Guard in Arlington, VA wants to keep the program limited to government employees: “Gov’t employees health plan should only be for those who work for the Government. This idea is ridiculous.”

An accountant with the Navy from Norfolk, Virginia has an alternative: “If a separate but parallel plan to the FEHB proposal would be implemented, then I could support that plan. However, more than likely, what would happen would be to just open up the FEHB to EVERYONE, medical cost to enrollees would greatly increase, while at the same time due to increasing costs, the benefits would have to be lowered (as the only way the plans could attempt to control their costs). BAD for EVERYONE!”

A management analyst with the Indian Health Service in Rockville, Maryland wrote: “First it was add a fee to the TSP and now it is open up FEHB to the public. If anyone wants socialized medicine, please don’t do it on the backs of Feds.”

As usual though, readers are not all of one mind. A few readers sent in comments such as this one from a supply specialist in New Jersey: “This just might be the “next best thing” in getting coverage for the unisured at a “reasonable” rate. It might even lessen the burden/financial expenses on hospitals and doctors for those that are uninsured. I see no reason in taking a risk in establising this.”

A management analyst with the Army at Ft. Leavenworth, Kansas said: “It probably doesn’t matter because the average worker/tax payer will end up footing the bill for the poorer segment’s of the population insurance coverage.”

And a rural development technician with the USDA in Kittaning, PA had this thought: “Hopefully by opening to ALL this would decrease the cost to federal employees.”

Our thanks to all readers who took the time to participate in this reader survey.