Health-benefit morass eyed
WASHINGTON -- Reforming the unwieldy health insurance program the government provides for its workers should be the first step in creating a national health-care policy, says the president of the American Federation of Government Employees,
John N. Sturdivant told a congressional forum that thgovernment's medical insurance system -- called the Federal Employees Health Benefits Program -- is costly, inefficient and "a nightmare for federal workers."
With more than 325 plans from which to choose, federal workerare ultimately segregated into programs that cater to high-risk and low-risk groups. For employees who use health benefits frequently, the programs are expensive. For those who don't, the less costly plans offer fewer services, said Sturdivant, who spoke in Fayetteville, N.C., before a forum sponsored by Rep. Charles Rose, D-N.C.
Those competing plans make the government's systeincreasingly expensive, he said, adding that the government's health program cost $66.2 billion last year, 10.5 percent more than in 1989.
Despite the increasing costs, the government spends $1,10less on health benefits per worker each year than does the typical large private employer, he said.
"For the most part, enrollees are getting no better deal than ithey purchased health insurance individually," he said. "Every pay raise we receive is a cruel joke, because more goes out of our pockets for health care each year."
Sturdivant called on Congress to pass legislation sponsored bRep. Gary Ackerman, D-N.Y., that would create one plan in which the government would negotiate cheaper rates from doctors, hospitals and pharmaceutical companies. He called it a precursor to a national health-care program.
The Office of Personnel Management and a health benefitprogram board that included federal workers would monitor the program.
"Today the United States and South Africa remain the only twindustrialized nations without some form of national health policy," Sturdivant said.
More jobs in Maryland
After months of congressional wrangling over where to put the new Food and Drug Administration offices, Maryland captured $200 million to consolidate FDA services at sites in Prince George's and Montgomery counties.
President Bush recently signed into law a measure that ensurethe federal money is available to build the facilities within the next decade.
Aides to Sen. Barbara A. Mikulski, D-Md., who sits on the SenatAppropriMIKULSKI
ations Committee, said the new facilities will lead to 8,000 new government jobs in Maryland by the year 2000, most of which would be assigned to administrative and drug research facilities to be built in Montgomery County. FDA's food and veterinary research laboratories are to be built in Prince George's.
Both facilities would cost $1.3 billion if built in the next five yearsa Mikulski aide said.
The FDA is now housed at 11 sites in 34 buildings, many owhich are deteriorating, said the Mikulski aide, who added that the agency has had trouble recruiting top researchers because of undesirable working conditions.
To keep from losing federal jobs, another appropriations laguarantees that some 700 Treasury Department employees who work for the Bureau of Public Debt won't lose their jobs if they don't move with the bureau to Parkersburg, W.Va.
Mikulski included language in the legislation, also signed into laby Bush, that prohibits the Treasury Department from firing employees who decide to stay in the Washington area. That includes about 375 Maryland residents.
Those workers would have the option of transferring to othepositions within the department.
"Dedicated employees of the Bureau of Public Debt should no )) have to sell their homes, uproot their families and move to another state just because someone has decided that bureau should be in West Virginia," Mikulski said.
She was referring to Sen. Robert Byrd, D-W.Va., who has used his influence as chairman of the Appropriations Committee to try to move a variety of federal agencies from the Washington area to his home state.
A House Aging subcommittee and the Social Security and Women Task Force will hold a hearing tomorrow on pensions paid to spouses of government retirees.
Social Security benefits paid to a retiree's spouse are offset btwo-thirds of the retiree's government pension. The hearing will focus on whether this system is fair.
Sandy Crank, associate commissioner of Social SecuritAdministration, and Robert Myers, former chief actuary for the administration, are to testify.