04/06/2017 – In order to have a healthy, sustainable, public Postal Service, legislation is necessary to protect postal customers and postal workers from USPS’s current financial crisis. The bi-partisan Postal Accountability and Enhancement Act (PAEA) of 2006 largely caused this crisis, sending the Postal Service on a severe downward spiral. The PAEA mandated the Postal Service “pre-fund” 100 percent of its retiree health benefit liabilities, 75 years into the future.
This absurd, unfair and unsustainable burden, which costs the Postal Service $5.5 billion each year over the past decade, is a large reason why the Postal Service cut back service and hours of operation, closed processing plants, increased subcontracting and severely reduced staffing. It also hurt the Postal Service’s financial ability to upgrade buildings, update infrastructure and purchase a new vehicle fleet.
In the ten years since the passage of the PAEA, legislators from both the Senate and House of Representatives repeatedly introduced postal legislation. Some bills, such as H.R. 22 in 2009 and H.R. 1351 in 2011, were positive legislative efforts to help address the pre-funding mandate, and were supported by the APWU. Some, such as H.R. 2309 in 2012, were all-out assaults on postal workers and the public Postal Service, causing the APWU to strongly oppose them.
Regardless of the political party in power, all legislative efforts have failed and the pre-funding crisis continues. It is clear that while Congress created the pre-funding mess, they refuse to legislate its solution on a stand-alone basis.
New postal reform legislation introduced in the 115th Congress helps to solve the pre-funding crisis and is fair to active and retired postal workers. The APWU supports two companion bills introduced in the House of Representatives, H.R. 756 and H.R. 760. As these bills move through the legislative process, the APWU will continue working to improve them.
We received many good questions from around the country regarding the impact of the pending legislation, if it is passed. These questions are the basis for the following “questions and answers.”
Q1: What is H.R. 756?
H.R. 756 is titled the “Postal Service Reform Act of 2017.” It is co-sponsored by a number of Congressional Representatives on the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, the legislative committee with jurisdiction over postal issues.
Q2: Does it have bi-partisan support of both Republicans and Democrats?
Yes. A rare sight in Washington, key Republicans and Democrats support the bill. It is sponsored by House Oversight Committee Chairman Jason Chaffetz (R-UT). Initial co-sponsors are Ranking Member Elijah Cummings (D-MD), and Representatives Mark Meadows (R-NC), Gerry Connolly (D-VA), Dennis Ross (R-FL) and Stephen Lynch (D-MA). It passed the Oversight Committee made up of 24 Republicans and 18 Democrats with an overwhelming voice vote.
Q3: How does H.R. 756 address the pre-funding debacle created by the 2006 PAEA?
H.R. 756 helps to solve the crushing pre-funding burden. By lowering the cost of FEHBP with Medicare Integration, combined with introducing EGWP drug discounts, the Postal Service should be 100 percent funded to meet the requirement of the PAEA.
Q4: What are the main aspects of H.R. 756 that affect postal workers and retirees?
The bill puts the Postal Service on firmer financial footing, which should lead to positive benefits for postal workers both active and retired. It addresses the pre-funding crisis and increases postal rates to raise revenue. Aspects that will directly affect postal workers and retirees are the creation of a “postal only” health care program within the Federal Employee Health Benefits Program (FEHBP), and the requirement of “Medicare Integration” for postal retirees who are eligible for Medicare.
Q5: If H.R. 756 becomes law, will there be any changes to what health benefits are covered?
There should be no changes in what health benefits are covered as a direct result of the passage of H.R. 756. With or without passage of the bill, FEHBP plans, with OPM approval, make changes annually to what they cover for medical procedures and prescription drugs, as well as co-pays, deductibles, networks and premiums. Those changes may increase or decrease a particular benefit. These FEHBP practices of the past will continue in the future.
Q6: What is Medicare Integration?
Medicare Integration requires that all Medicare-eligible postal retirees (age 65 or older) enroll in Medicare in order to maintain their FEHBP plan coverage in retirement. This means that all eligible retirees must be enrolled in Medicare Parts A, B and D in order to get insurance through the FEHBP. In order to simplify the enrollment procedure, all Medicare-eligible retirees will be automatically enrolled.
Q7: What do Medicare Parts A, B and D cover?
Medicare Part A covers hospitalization, Medicare Part B covers doctor/physician care and Medicare Part D covers prescription drugs.
Q8: Will this cost employees, upon retirement, additional premiums? What about retirees who are not yet 65 years of age?
Medicare Part A has no premium. Medicare Part B currently has a standard premium for new enrollees of $134.00/month. Each year, Medicare Part B premiums are set based on the Consumer Price Index, so premiums can change. There is no additional premium for Medicare Part D because it is part of a retiree’s FEHBP plan coverage. Retirees under 65 years of age are not Medicare-eligible and thus will have no additional Medicare premiums until they become Medicare-eligible.
Q9: If a postal worker is still an active employee after reaching the Medicare-eligible age of 65, will they have to enroll in Medicare Part B to maintain their FEHBP coverage?
No. Only when an employee retires does the Medicare Integration mandate apply.
Q10: Will Medicare Integration remove retirees from medical coverage under the Federal Employee Health Benefit Program?
No. H.R. 756 sets up a “postal only” group within FEHBP for active and retired postal workers. For Medicare-eligible retirees, Medicare will be the primary insurance and a FEHBP plan will be the secondary insurance. Medical and prescription bills not covered by Medicare are covered by the FEHBP plan (if the medical care or drugs are normally covered by the plan’s benefits).
Q11: Will the postal only group insurance be run by the USPS?
No. USPS management will have no more authority to run the postal only health plans than they do now. The FEHBP “postal only” plans will continue to be administered by their plan sponsors, with OPM oversight.
Q12: Will retirees have access to all the FEHBP plans that other federal employees/retirees have?
Mostly yes. Eligible plans in the “postal only” group will be ones with over 1,500 postal participants. Right now, over 30 plans would be eligible, including all of the union-sponsored FEHBP health plans. Current retirees in a FEHBP plan with under 1,500 postal participants will be “grandfathered in” and can stay with their health plan – or switch to a FEHBP postal plan.
Q13: Are “pre-1983” postal Civil Service retirees who did not contribute to Medicare covered under the provisions of H.R. 756?
Postal Service employees who retired prior to 1983 will be exempt from Medicare Integration, unless the retiree had sufficient quarters in a non-postal job, qualifying them for Medicare.
Q14: If a Medicare-eligible retiree has a spouse who is covered by an FEHBP plan, and is not yet 65 years of age, will there be a change in how the spouse gets medical coverage?
No. The spouse will be fully covered by the FEHBP plan until he or she becomes Medicare-eligible. At that point, the spouse will be required to enroll in Medicare Part B in order to maintain FEHBP coverage.
Q15: If H.R. 756 passes, what happens to a dependent under 26 years of age who is currently covered under a FEHBP plan?
No change will take place as a result of H.R. 756.
Q16: If H.R. 756 passes, will it have an effect on the FEHBP premium cost for active and retired postal workers?
Yes, it will have a positive effect. According to numerous health care actuaries, Medicare Integration will likely lead to cost savings for the FEHBP plans with three possible outcomes for both active and retired postal workers: 1) Some outright reduction in FEHBP premiums; 2) Slower growth of premium increases; and 3) increase in benefits provided. These anticipated savings are part of what makes this pending legislation fair to both active workers and retirees.
Q17: These are tumultuous times and there is much talk of doing away with and/or privatizing Medicare. If that were to happen, how would that affect our health coverage if H.R. 756 passes?
In the unlikely event of the elimination of Medicare, then there is really no Medicare Integration required of employees. Annuitants, including spouses, would maintain their FEHBP plan as their health insurance
Q18: If passed, when would the Medicare Integration provisions of the bill go into effect? How will affected retirees know the impact on their individual situation?
January 2019 is currently the proposed effective date. There is language in H.R. 756 that mandates an extensive education program for affected employees prior to Medicare Integration implementation. Furthermore, if H.R. 756 becomes law, the APWU is committed to creating its own education program.
Q19: How many of the current postal retirees will be affected by Medicare Integration if this bill were to become law?
Approximately 20 percent of Medicare-eligible postal retirees are not currently enrolled in Medicare Part B. They will be required to enroll if they wish to keep their FEHBP coverage.
Medicare Part B
Q20: Why do approximately 80 percent of APWU retirees already voluntarily enroll in Medicare Part B?
With the combined benefits of Medicare Part B and their FEHBP plan, enrolled retirees have virtually 100% medical coverage with no co-pays, deductibles, co-insurance or catastrophic limits.
Q21: If an over-65 retiree did not voluntarily enroll in Medicare Part B at age 65, what happens to the late enrollment penalty if the bill is passed?
Under current provisions of the law, there is a 10% late enrollment penalty for each year after a person became Medicare-eligible, but did not enroll. H.R. 756 waives the late enrollment penalty for Medicare Part B to allow current retirees to enroll.
Q22: Is there any financial assistance with Medicare Part B premiums for those who are already Medicare-eligible but did not previously enroll?
H.R. 756 has a transition provision for current retirees and covered family members. The USPS will pay 75 percent of the Medicare Part B premium the first year, 50 percent the second year and 25 percent the third year (only for retirees and dependents who did not enroll in Medicare Part B before the passage of H.R. 756). Furthermore, there are a number of Medicare Savings Programs (MSPs) to assist low-income beneficiaries with their Medicare Part B premiums. Eligibility and availability vary state by state.
Q23: If a disabled veteran, getting their health care coverage through the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs’ Health Benefit program, has FEHBP coverage for a spouse, will they be mandated to enroll in Medicare as well?
The way H.R. 756 is currently written, yes. However, the APWU is working to improve and clarify the language surrounding this issue.
Q24: If I have a physician who opts out of Medicare Part B, will I be forced to change my existing doctor?
No. For doctors who opt out of Medicare, which is an extremely small number (less than 1 percent), your FEHBP plan will pay towards your medical expenses as set forth in its benefits and coverage rules.
Medicare Part D
Q25: How does Medicare Integration into Part D affect my premiums?
Prescription coverage is already provided in all FEHBP plans. There is no additional Medicare Part D premium that would be paid under the bill other than the premium already paid for FEHBP coverage.
Q26: Medicare Part D has what is called a “donut hole” creating a gap in prescription drug coverage. How will this affect annuitants under H.R. 756?
Whatever Medicare Part D does not cover in the “donut hole” will be covered by a person’s FEHBP plan, if the FEHBP plan provides coverage with what is commonly referred to as a “wrap around plan.” A “wrap around plan” for Medicare Part D gives a person complete prescription coverage. The APWU Health Plan will provide prescription “wrap around” coverage in the new “postal only” group and it is anticipated that other FEHBP plans will, as well.
Q27: If my current medicine is not covered under the Medicare Part D formulary, will I lose the coverage for that particular medicine?
No. Your FEHBP “wrap around plan” will cover what is not covered by Medicare Part D, based on the FEHBP plan’s benefits. Keep in mind that FEHBP plans cover different medicines in different ways, which can change from year to year. That practice will not change as a result of H.R. 756, and employees will need to review their options carefully during Open Season.
Q28: What is the Employee Group Waiver Program (EGWP)?
The Medicare Modernization Act (MMA) of 2003, the law that created Medicare Part D, also created the Employee Group Waiver Program (EGWP). It is a program that incentivizes employers to cover health benefits for their retirees by providing access to discounted drugs. Right now, the EGWP does not currently apply to the FEHBP; however, H.R. 756 would allow the “postal only” FEHBP plans access to the EGWP discounts. In turn, access to the EGWP should save the FEHBP plans, individuals and the Postal Service significant amounts of money on the cost of medications.
Q29: What is the companion bill, H.R. 760 about?
H.R. 760, the Postal Service Financial Improvement Act of 2017, allows the Postal Service Retiree Health Benefit Fund (PSRHBF) to invest up to 30 percent of its funds in a Thrift Savings Plan-like account. Currently, all PSRHBF money (approximately $50 billion) is in U.S. Treasury accounts, earning very low interest. With medical inflation running at 6-8 percent annually, the USPS loses large sums of money each year simply trying to keep up. Sensible investment approaches would allow the PSRHBF to generate more income to match medical inflation.
Q30: Why does the APWU support H.R. 756 when there is no language to restore overnight delivery standards?
The return of overnight delivery standards is an important goal of the APWU. However, pressing for it in this bill undermines its passage because neither the USPS nor the mailers agree to support this language. The reality we face is that no legislation will survive in the current political environment without the support of the four major postal unions, postal management and a significant portion of the major mailers. APWU’s effort to restore service standards will continue in other forms.
Q31: What about protection against further postal and plant closures?
If USPS finances are stabilized, there is less pressure to cut back on services. Conversely, if postal reform legislation is not passed soon, the Postal Service may look to implement further service cuts, such as eliminating delivery days, closing processing plants, reducing staffing, shuttering post offices and subcontracting more work – and services. Remember, a declining Postal Service is also an easy target for full-blown privatization.
Q32: Will H.R. 756 undermine our union rights?
No. As opposed to some “postal reform” bills over the last few years, H.R. 756, as this article goes to press, does not attack collective bargaining rights, the right to dues check-off or the right to official union time.
Q33: Different legislative initiatives over the years have attacked injured workers. How does H.R. 756 treat injured workers?
There is no change to current law.
Q34: What is the current status of the legislation?
The bills are in the early stage of a long arduous legislative process. Both have been “marked up” and approved by the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform. Once the bills are reviewed by the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) – to “score” their financial impact on the overall federal budget – and are reviewed by other committees of jurisdiction, they will advance to the full House. If the bill(s) pass the House, the process will move to the Senate.
These questions concerning H.R. 756 were the most frequently asked by APWU members. The answers were produced by APWU National Officers in consultation with attorneys and health plan experts. Check back frequently for the latest developments and additional information.