Misgivings about OPM’s Role in ObamaCare

Can the Office of Personnel Management successfully manage the nation’s health care exchanges?

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!

* 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.

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.