Baltimore Social Security employees might be moving by 2008

FEDERAL WORKERS

December 11, 2005|By MELISSA HARRIS

The Social Security Administration is considering moving its Baltimore-based employees because their building has so much empty space and needs expensive repairs, the agency said last week.

SSA spokesman Mark Lassiter said the 26-year-old Metro West building on North Greene Street was designed to hold up to 5,000 employees but that automation has reduced the number of people who work there to fewer than 2,000. The 1.4 million-square-foot building needs a new heating and air-conditioning system and security improvements.

Lassiter said the move could occur in 2008 "at the earliest."

"There is so much left to be determined," he said. "There's also a number of things that have to be approved and signed off on before we know whether this is actually going to happen. These steps take a number of years. It won't happen right away."

If SSA moves, "a small number" of Metro West employees would be transferred to the agency's headquarters on Security Boulevard in Woodlawn, and the rest would move to another to-be-determined location in the city, Lassiter said. The agency has notified Baltimore officials and members of Congress of its plans.

The federal government owns the building, which is on 11 acres, in what is called a "trust fund" relationship between the SSA and the General Services Administration, which, among other roles, is the federal government's landlord and real estate entity. That means that the SSA pays rent to the GSA. The SSA also is responsible for its own utilities and maintenance.

"The building's infrastructure is reaching the end of its life cycle," Lassiter said.

The Metro West building houses one of the SSA's 1-800 tele-service centers and the agency's wage reporting unit, which keeps records on Americans' earnings as reported on W-2 forms.

Mileage rate drop

The mileage reimbursement rate for federal workers is going to drop next year, but it is unclear by how much, said Viki Reath, a spokeswoman for GSA.

After Hurricane Katrina brought higher gas prices, the Internal Revenue Service raised the rate an employee could be reimbursed for driving personal cars on business to 48.5 cents a mile, an 8-cent increase. For 2006, however, the IRS has lowered it to 44.5 cents. However, rules require GSA to conduct its own study for federal workers, which has not been finished. If history is a guide, the rate for feds will be 44.5 cents.

Medicare transition

When Mike Kaplan turned 65, his routine medical bills were supposed to be handled like this: He would pay a small co-pay, Medicare would pay its part next and then his health insurance would take care of the rest.

Kaplan's transition to Medicare, however, was not that smooth. The now 69-year-old retired Environmental Protection Agency employee received hundreds of dollars worth of incorrect bills from his doctor.

Medicare had paid its share, but Blue Cross, his preferred provider organization, had no knowledge of the treatments he received or the bills for them. Instead, the company's portion landed in Kaplan's mailbox.

The problem is somewhat common. That is because enrollees must notify Blue Cross of their entrance into Medicare, either in writing or over the phone. Providing accurate information on forms at the doctor's office is not enough.

The easiest way for recent Medicare and Blue Cross PPO beneficiaries to avoid incorrect bills is to call 202-484- 1650, press 3 and ask to be placed in the "Medicare cross-over file," according to a customer service representative. Folks at that number also can guide soon-to-be Medicare recipients through the cross-over process.

The writer welcomes comments and suggestions. She can be reached at melissa.harris@baltsun.com or 410-715-2885. Back issues can be read at www.baltsun.com/federal.

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