Divorce, Health Insurance and a Retired Federal Employee

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By on October 13, 2009 in Court Cases with 0 Comments
A divorced spouse of a retired federal employee has been frustrated in her attempts to continue her coverage under his federal health insurance policy even though she had a court order requiring her ex-husband to “continue to pay…the premiums due on the medical” policy. (Richardson v. Office of Personnel Management, C.A.F.C. No. 2009-3159 (nonprecedential), 10/6/09)
In spite of this language in the divorce decree, Mr. Richardson later removed his ex-wife from his federal health insurance. Vinnie Richardson (the ex-wife) then wrote to the Office of Personnel Management and requested that her health insurance be reinstated.
No can do, said OPM. The agency concluded it had no authority to enforce a court order that directed a federal retiree to keep his spouse covered under his Federal Employees Health Benefits policy. (Opinion, pp. 1-2)
Vinnie Richardson appealed OPM’s decision to the Merit Systems Protection Board. The MSPB affirmed OPM’s decision, so Ms. Richardson took her case to the appeals court (representing herself, i.e. “pro se.”) Once more, however, she is out of luck.
The appeals court agrees that the MSPB has no jurisdiction to add Ms. Richardson to her ex-husband’s FEHB policy. The court explains to Ms. Richardson that claims under the FEHBP are within the jurisdiction of the district courts and the Court of Federal Claims, and not with the MSPB. Therefore, the Board was correct to dismiss her request for coverage under the health insurance policy. (p. 5)
Ms. Richardson also had requested that OPM and the court affirm that she is entitled to a survivor annuity. The court pointed out that the state court decree had made no reference to Ms. Richardson getting a survivor annuity under her ex-husband’s pension. Further, the court noted, “…as there is no evidence that Mr. Richardson has died, [her]…claim to all or a portion of a survivor annuity is premature.” (p. 6)
Apparently Ms. Richardson is concerned that she will be cut out of the survivor annuity that her husband elected for her benefit when he retired several years prior to their divorce, given what happened with her health insurance. (pp. 1-2) However, she picked the wrong time and probably the wrong place to bring that concern forward.
Navigating the waters of a divorce involving a federal employee or retiree spouse is not that simple, as this case and many others like it demonstrate.

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About the Author

Susan McGuire Smith spent most of her federal legal career with NASA, serving as Chief Counsel at Marshall Space Flight Center for 14 years. Her expertise is in government contracts, ethics, and personnel law.