The cry went up on June 29, when President Obama visited parts of Colorado devastated by wild fires: Temporary federal firefighters should be eligible for federal health insurance. Well, less than a month later, they are.
Under an interim government regulation issued July 17, 2012 by the U.S. Office of Personnel Management (OPM), temporary federal firefighters and fire protection employees can now purchase health insurance coverage for themselves and their families under the Federal Employees Health Benefits Program (FEHBP), just like full-time federal employees.
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While they are employed, participating temporary fire fighters will have about 72% of their health insurance premiums paid by the FEHBP, similar to full-time federal employees. In 2011, monthly FEHBP insurance premiums averaged about $500 for individual plans and $1,200 for family plans.
About 90% of all federal employees - over 8 million people -- participate in the Federal Employees Health Benefits Program.
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While most temporary federal employees must work continuously for at least one year before they can get FEHBP insurance, the new OPM rule makes an exception for firefighters because of the inherent risks they face and the importance of their jobs to the nation.
"The day-to-day job of a firefighter involves frequent exposure to environmental risk factors that can precipitate the onset of severe and life-threatening diseases like cancer," stated the OPM in its interim rule. "The nature of this work necessarily involves intense physical stress that can result in potentially fatal cardiac events, job-related injuries, and an adverse psychological impact."
Due to the seasonal "We'll call you when we need you," nature of their jobs, temporary federal firefighters will also be exempt from the standard requirement for a minimum number of hours worked annually to qualify for coverage under FEHBP.
"Issuing this interim final regulation meets President Obama's direction to ensure that the brave men and women who compose our nation's federal firefighter ranks, and who are currently fighting dangerous wildfires in states across the country, are eligible for the same health insurance available to other federal employees, retirees and their families," said OPM Director John Berry said in press release.
The OPM regulation allows temporary firefighters to continue their FEHBP health insurance coverage during periods when they are not actively employed, but they will be responsible for paying 100% of the policy premiums.