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NEWS:

NARFE Headquarters, August 19, 2016

Message from NARFE President Richard G. Thissen

“It’s been a busy August for NARFE, which is why we’re bringing you this special Hotline edition. As you know, we usually don’t publish the Legislative Hotline when Congress is in recess. But as we prepare to head to Reno next week for NARFE’s 34th biennial National Convention, I wanted to share with you an update on several pending issues.”

Federal Long Term Care Insurance Program (FLTCIP) Premium Increases

Over the course of the past month, NARFE has taken multiple steps to address the sharp FLTCIP premium increases and provide service to its members. NARFE remains outraged by the shocking increases that have raised participant’s premiums an average of 83 percent. For many NARFE members, the increases have gone beyond the average.

Shortly after NARFE expressed disappointment with the increase, the NARFE Legislative Department began to contact congressional offices to discuss the possibility of a hearing and policy changes. These conversations are ongoing. An action letter, expressing NARFE members’ shock and disappointment, was added to NARFE’s Legislative Action Center for members to send to their legislators. We encourage you to send this letter, echoing NARFE’s calls for hearings.

NARFE also has been in contact with the Office of Personnel Management and Long Term Care Partners, which administers the program, to obtain answers to some of NARFE members’ most pressing questions. As always, NARFE members are encouraged to contact NARFE’s Federal Benefits Service Department (703-838-7760) with questions.

NARFE has created a dedicated web page on the premium increases to keep members updated. We are hopeful a hearing will be held on the matter and that NARFE will be asked to testify, as it did in 2009. As more legislators voice their concerns with the increases, NARFE will continue to work with members of Congress and their staff on possible policy changes to mitigate such an increase in the future.

Please continue to check the NARFE website for updates.

Consumer Prices Decrease in July

Relevant to the cost-of-living adjustment (COLA) to civil service annuities for 2017, the July 2016 Consumer Price Index for Urban Wage Earners and Clerical Workers (CPI-W) is 234.789, a one-month decrease of 0.22 percent. The July figure is 0.23 percent higher than the average CPI-W for the third quarter of 2014, which, because there was no COLA in 2016, is the reference figure for determining the 2017 COLA. The 2017 COLA will not be determined until October, when the July, August and September CPI-W numbers are available.

Of interest to individuals receiving benefits under the Federal Employees’ Compensation Act (FECA), the June CPI-W figure is 1.73 percent higher than the December 2015 CPI-W figure.

You can access NARFE’s full COLA update here.

Medicare Part B Beneficiaries and the Hold Harmless Provision

The 2017 COLA is set to be released on October 18. The resulting COLA could have a significant impact on Medicare Part B premiums for those who are not held harmless, as we saw when it was announced there would be no COLA in 2016. Those who are not held harmless include: federal retirees who do not have their Medicare Part B premiums deducted from Social Security, individuals who are currently paying higher income-related premiums and new Medicare enrollees.

For those not held harmless, last year’s budget deal included a compromise limiting premium increases to what they would have been if there had been a COLA. For 2016, this meant those not held harmless saw their premiums rise roughly 15 percent, instead of the intended 52 percent, in no small part due to the hard work of NARFE. This compromise would apply again this year if there is no COLA; however, there are no provisions if there is a small COLA.

If there is a small COLA, such as 0.2 percent, those who are not held harmless, including many federal retirees under the Civil Service Retirement System, will be forced to shoulder the full amount of the premium increases, absent congressional action. The previously released 2016 Medicare Trustees Report expects a 22 percent increase in the standard Part B premium, based on a predicted 0.2 percent COLA. This would raise premiums from about $122 to nearly $149 per month for those not held harmless. A larger COLA would result in premiums lower than predicted in the Trustees report. Without a COLA, the premiums would remain at $122, with the possibility of a slight increase.

NARFE is working proactively with lawmakers to address this possible scenario. An action letter is available here to make your legislators aware of this situation. However, no legislation has been introduced at this point.

SSA Removes Cellphone Requirement to Access Online Account

This week, the Social Security Administration (SSA) removed its requirement that beneficiaries use a cellphone in order to access their “my Social Security” account. This comes after an outcry from various organizations and members of Congress against the restrictive requirement. The cellphone requirement stemmed from increased security measures that went into effect July 30.

In a statement published on the SSA website, the agency said: “We removed the requirement to use a cell phone to access your account. While it’s not mandatory, we encourage those of you who have a text-capable cell phone to take advantage of this optional extra security. We continue to pursue more options beyond cell phone texting.” NARFE will continue to monitor the development of future login options in the coming months.

Meet With Legislators During Extended Congressional Recess

With Congress in recess, NARFE urges members to meet with their legislators while they are back in their home states and districts. NARFE members can participate in August’s “Grass-Roots Advocacy Month” by attending town hall meetings and community events or meeting individually with legislators. NARFE’s online Toolkits, particularly the “Legislative Activities at the Individual Level Toolkit,” provide all the information you need to participate in Grass-Roots Advocacy Month. The Toolkits can be found here.

We know that when legislators hear from their constituents, they react. Now is the time to remind your elected officials that NARFE members pay attention.

Hotline on an As-Needed Basis Until September 9

Due to the congressional recess, the Hotline will be published on an as-needed basis until September 9.

Make Your Voice Heard in Congress

NARFE members are encouraged to use the Legislative Action Center to easily send letters to members of Congress on a variety of NARFE issues. Members also can track NARFE-related bills and votes and see how their legislators voted.

Return to August 19, 2016

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NARFE Headquarters, July 15, 2016

Message from NARFE President Richard G. Thissen

“This week, two important bills were scheduled to be considered in House committees. The Postal Reform Act of 2016 (H.R. 5714), which NARFE opposes, unanimously passed in the Oversight and Government Reform Committee. NARFE will continue to work with legislators to provide an opt-out from mandatory Medicare enrollment for current postal retirees. The Equal Treatment of Public Servants Act of 2015 (H.R. 711), a WEP reform bill that NARFE supported, was pulled from consideration by the House Committee on Ways and Means. A variety of concerns with the bill, as well as a substitute the committee was going to consider, led to the bill being taken off the agenda. Read more about both of these issues below.”

The Postal Reform Act of 2016 (H.R. 5714) Passes House Committee

On July 12, the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee passed its version of postal reform legislation, indicating that this issue may move forward before the end of this Congress. While H.R. 5714 is an improvement over its Senate counterpart, NARFE still opposes the bill. It is not clear when or if the full House will vote on it.

On July 11, NARFE President Richard G. Thissen sent a letter to the members of the Committee, urging them not to support the bill unless changes were made. NARFE opposes the bill because it would force current postal retirees, their spouses and survivors to enroll in Medicare or forfeit their Federal Employees Health Benefits Program (FEHBP) coverage. For those not already enrolled, this would cost an additional $121.80 per month (or more) in Medicare Part B premiums.

Rep. Brenda Lawrence, D-MI, a 30-year employee of the Postal Service before joining Congress, introduced an amendment to the bill that would allow the 76,000 postal retirees who would be impacted by the bill to opt out of Medicare and still keep their FEHBP coverage. Lawrence withdrew her amendment in an effort to not hold up progress, but said she will continue to push for the option as the bill is considered by the House.

NARFE urges members to make their voices heard and oppose H.R. 5714 in its current form. Members can contact their representatives about the bill here.

WEP Reform Legislation Pulled From Consideration

On July 13, the House Committee on Ways and Means withdrew from consideration a Windfall Elimination Provision (WEP) reform bill, H.R. 711, amid concerns about a variety of provisions from stakeholders. In particular, NARFE objected to a substitute bill, which was introduced just prior to the markup session. The substitute made substantial changes to the original bill that would provide little benefit for those currently feeling the impact of the WEP.

In a letter to the Committee, NARFE President Thissen argued that the original bill would have helped mitigate the effects of the WEP by providing some relief for both current beneficiaries through a reduced WEP penalty, and for future Social Security recipients. The original bill would have provided current WEP-affected individuals a rebate of 50 percent of the WEP penalty, while the substitute bill would have resulted in a mere 14 percent decrease, for an average of $40 per month, through 2026.

At the markup, Committee Chairman Kevin Brady, R-TX, said: “This bill is about getting equal treatment for public servants. However, it has become clear over the past several days that public servants are not in agreement about this legislation. We need the community to come together on what they can all support or the consequence, unfortunately, is to see the current WEP harm people on a daily basis that frankly don’t deserve being harmed. Meanwhile, we will postpone consideration of H.R. 711 until that agreement is found.”

It is not yet clear if H.R. 711 will be considered again after Congress returns from recess in September. NARFE continues to support the bill in its original form. More information on WEP reform can be found here.

Federal Employees’ Group Life Insurance Program (FEGLI) Sets Open Season

The Federal Employees’ Group Life Insurance Program (FEGLI) will hold an open season from September 1 through September 30. This is the first FEGLI open season since 2004.

During September, federal employees eligible for FEGLI can elect any coverage that FEGLI offers, including Option C coverage on the lives of eligible family members. Employees do not have to be currently enrolled in FEGLI to elect coverage during the open season. Open season elections have no medical exam required and no health questions to answer.

Elections made during the FEGLI open season have a one-year delayed effective date. Coverage elected in the September 2016 FEGLI open season will be effective on the first day of the first full pay period on or after October 1, 2017, as long as employees meet pay and duty status requirements. Additional information on the open season can be found here.

Consumer Prices Increase in June

Relevant to the cost-of-living adjustment (COLA) to civil service annuities for 2017, the June 2016 Consumer Price Index for Urban Wage Earners and Clerical Workers (CPI-W) is 235.308, a one-month increase of 0.37 percent. The June figure is 0.46 percent higher than the average CPI-W for the third quarter of 2014, which, because there was no COLA in 2016, is the reference figure for determining the 2017 COLA. The 2017 COLA will not be determined until October, when the July, August and September CPI-W numbers are available.

Of interest to individuals receiving benefits under the Federal Employees’ Compensation Act (FECA), the June CPI-W figure is 1.96 percent higher than the December 2015 CPI-W figure.

Access NARFE’s full COLA update here.

Meet With Legislators During Extended Congressional Recess

The House and Senate adjourned this week for the political party national conventions and the August congressional recess. Both the House and Senate will return on Tuesday, September 6. This extended recess is the perfect time for NARFE members across the country to meet with legislators. NARFE members can participate in August’s Grass-Roots Advocacy Month by attending town hall meetings and community events or meeting individually with legislators. NARFE’s online Toolkits, particularly the “Legislative Activities at the Individual Level Toolkit,” provide all the information you need to participate in Grass-Roots Advocacy Month. The Toolkits can be found here.

Please note: NARFE’s “State Specific Federal Family Fact Sheet” is in the process of being updated and will be released later this month.

We know that when legislators hear from their constituents, they react. Now is the time to remind your elected officials that NARFE members pay attention – We need your voice!

Hotline on an As-Needed Basis Until September 9

Due to the congressional recess, the Hotline will be published on an as-needed basis until September 9.

Make Your Voice Heard in Congress

NARFE members are encouraged to use the Legislative Action Center to easily send letters to members of Congress on a variety of NARFE issues. Members also can track NARFE-related bills and votes and see how their legislators voted.

Return to July 15, 2016

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NARFE Headquarters, July 8, 2016

Message from NARFE President Richard G. Thissen

“Prior to the Independence Day holiday, NARFE submitted comments to the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee in opposition to a draft bill to reform the U.S. Postal Service, and I continued to express NARFE’s concerns in meetings this week with key members of Congress. I thank all the NARFE members who also weighed in on this issue through the process set by the Committee. NARFE is making its views known on all fronts. Read more below.”

NARFE Opposes House Draft Postal Reform Bill

On June 29, NARFE submitted comments to the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee opposing a draft bill to reform the U.S. Postal Service. The committee requested public comments prior to the bill’s formal introduction, and we were informed many NARFE members submitted comments.

NARFE opposes the draft because it would force current postal retirees, their spouses and survivors to enroll in Medicare or forfeit the Federal Employees Health Benefits Program (FEHBP) coverage that they earned as a benefit of years of employment. For those not already enrolled, this would cost an additional $121.80 per month (or more) in Medicare Part B premiums.

In the comments submitted, NARFE argued that it is unfair to remove an individual’s choice to enroll in Medicare and that this changes the bargain for postal employees after they’ve retired. NARFE has proposed, as a compromise, allowing for postal retirees automatically enrolled in Medicare coverage to opt out during a special opt-out period. NARFE also offered some other solutions to help fix the Postal Service’s financial problems without placing the burden on postal retirees. NARFE’s comments can be found here.

NARFE continues to meet with congressional offices to explain our opposition to the draft bill. When the bill is formally introduced, NARFE will have a template letter available for its members to send to their legislators.

NARFE Sends Letter Asking House to Oppose H.R. 4361 in Advance of Vote

On July 6, NARFE President Richard G. Thissen sent a letter to the House of Representatives opposing H.R. 4361, the misleadingly named Government Reform and Improvement Act. The bill passed the House July 7, on a mostly party-line vote of 241-181. The final vote can be found here.

NARFE believes the bill is a misguided and unnecessary attempt to limit due process rights and terminate federal employees. The bill would extend the federal employee probationary period, change the removal process for senior executives, and require additional and overly burdensome reporting on the use of union “official time.”

In NARFE’s letter, President Thissen explained that the federal government already has in place several tools to deal with poor performers, and that it is incumbent on federal agencies to ensure their managers use those tools when necessary. The letter can be read here.

 Appropriations Update: Employee Pay Raise Moves Forward, Provision Restoring USPS Service Standards Removed

On July 7, the House passed the fiscal year (FY) 2017 Financial Services and General Government Appropriations bill. The bill remains silent on a federal employee pay raise, paving the way for a 1.6 percent pay increase, starting the first full pay period in January. When Congress is silent on a pay raise for federal employees, the President has the authority to set pay. A 1.6 percent pay raise was included in the President’s FY 2017 budget and would be the largest federal employees have received since 2010.

Unfortunately, the House removed an amendment to restore the pre-2012 service standards of the U.S. Postal Service (USPS). The amendment had been previously approved unanimously by the Appropriations Committee. Since July 1, 2012, the USPS has nearly eliminated overnight delivery of first class mail and periodicals, and delayed most other mail. The bill maintains six-day mail delivery, which has been approved in the appropriations process since 1983.

Make Your Voice Heard in Congress

NARFE members are encouraged to use the Legislative Action Center to easily send letters to members of Congress on a variety of NARFE issues. Members also can track NARFE-related bills and votes and see how their legislators voted.

Return to July 8, 2016

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NARFE Headquarters, June 24, 2016

Message from NARFE President Richard G. Thissen

“This week, NARFE applauded the announcement by the Department of Defense that it will begin offering the option of phased retirement to its employees. NARFE long has called on agencies to implement phased retirement, a policy that has been law for more than four years. Also this week, the Social Security Trustees Report alerted us that some federal employees may again face an unfair Medicare premium increase. Learn more about both below. ”

DOD Announces Phased Retirement Implementation

On June 21, the Department of Defense announced it will begin offering phased retirement to its civilian employees. Phased retirement allows an employee to ease into retirement while working part time. Employees mentor younger employees while still earning credit toward their retirement. It became law four years ago, but agencies have been slow to implement the program.

NARFE applauded the announcement from the government’s largest agency, but called it long overdue. NARFE also called on other agencies to embrace this innovative human resources tool.

NARFE’s press release on the announcement can be found here.

Social Security Trustees Report Released

The annual Social Security Trustees Report was released this week, finding little change overall in the finances of the Social Security Trust Fund. The Trustees predicted the Social Security Trust Fund will remain solvent until 2034. The report also predicted a 0.2 percent cost-of-living adjustment (COLA) for Social Security beneficiaries in 2017. The 2017 COLA will not be determined until October.

Federal annuitants receive the same COLA as Social Security beneficiaries. A small COLA, such as the 0.2 percent increase estimated by the Trustees, could result in a significant increase in Medicare Part B premiums for some retirees – an increase that could be larger than the increase in their annuity checks. This is because of the “hold harmless” provision of Social Security law that states the dollar increase in an individual’s Part B premium is limited to the dollar increase in an individual’s Social Security benefit. Unfortunately, many federal retirees who do not receive Social Security benefits, or who receive very small Social Security benefits, are not under the “hold harmless” provision and would shoulder the full cost of the Part B premium increase.

This repeats last year’s scenario when it was announced that there would be no COLA in 2016. NARFE was instrumental in obtaining a fix that kept the full 52 percent increase in Part B premiums from taking effect. Instead, premiums rose only approximately 15 percent.

This fix also would apply if there is a zero COLA for 2017. However, it would not apply if there is a small COLA for 2017. NARFE is beginning to reach out to members of Congress on this issue and will be looking for another legislative fix if, indeed, there is a very small COLA in 2017.

House in Recess, Legislative Hotline Pending for July 1

While the Senate is in session next week, the House is in recess until July 5. Consequently, the Hotline may not be published next week, July 1, unless there is legislative news to report.

Make Your Voice Heard in Congress

NARFE members are encouraged to use the Legislative Action Center to easily send letters to members of Congress on a variety of NARFE issues. Members also can track NARFE-related bills and votes and see how their legislators voted.

Return to June 24, 2016

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