April 03, 2019

Warner & Kaine Introduce Bills To Protect Federal Workers’ Health Benefits During Government Shutdowns

WASHINGTON, D.C.—Today, U.S. Senators Mark R. Warner and Tim Kaine joined Senators Tina Smith (D-MN), Ben Cardin (D-MD), Chris Van Hollen (D-MD), and Sherrod Brown (D-OH) to introduce a pair of bills aimed at protecting federal health care benefits in the event of a government shutdown. Similar bipartisan legislation was introduced in the House yesterday, led by Rep. Elijah Cummings (D-MD).

The two bills would amend current law to ensure that workers who have qualifying life events – like the birth or adoption of a child – are able to make the proper adjustments to their health insurance plans and continue dental and vision benefits during lapses in federal funding.

“I’ve heard story after story about how the recent government shutdown caused significant financial hardship for Virginians. But stories like Brian Uholick’s really struck a nerve. During the 35-day shutdown, Brian struggled to get his newborn on his health insurance to ensure he could get the medication she needed because his own HR department was furloughed,” said Warner. “It’s just not right. That’s why I joined my colleagues in introducing a set of bills to ensure the health and well-being of our federal workforce and their families.” 

“Our hardworking federal employees should never have to go through the pain of a shutdown in the first place, and they should never have to fear losing access to their health benefits as a result. Our legislation would help ensure that federal workers and their families can get the care they need during a shutdown,” said Kaine.     

Press reports during the recent shutdown indicated that federal employees had difficulty obtaining health insurance coverage for their newborns because some agencies were not processing new enrollments or changes to enrollments. 

In January, Sens. Warner and Kaine pressed the Office of Personnel Management (OPM) Acting Director to prevent the termination of dental and vision coverage for federal workers during the 35-day shutdown after reports emerged that employees could stand to lose their coverage if they did not pay their premiums. During the government shutdown, OPM announced that coverage would continue only for two or three pay periods, after which insurers would start billing employees directly.  

Both bills are supported by the American Federation of Government Employees, National Active and Retired Federal Employees Association, and International Federation of Professional and Technical Engineers.