One quasi-hybrid insurance plan, however, has long tantalized policy makers as a potential model for expanding insurance coverage, and in recent days Democratic negotiators have returned to it as perhaps the last best hope of a deal: the Federal Employees Health Benefits Program, or F.E.H.B.P., which provides insurance coverage to more than eight million federal workers, including members of Congress and their dependents.
A team of 10 senators, tapped by the majority leader, Harry Reid of Nevada, to fashion a last-ditch deal on the public option, is now focusing on the federal employees’ plan as a blueprint for a solution. The goal would be to provide a menu of private, nationwide insurance plans, and for the Office of Personnel Management to oversee them, conducting the same type of negotiation over benefits and premium prices that it does for federal workers.
F.E.H.B.P. offers federal workers an array of different private insurance plans, including fee-for-service plans, with preferred provider networks and lower cost HMOs. Several of the plans are national in scope — the most popular is a national Blue Cross plan — and benefits are portable, from state to state, and usually can be carried into retirement.
An easy-to-use Web site serves as a portal for federal employees looking to compare the plans available to them.
Although the plans are all private, the fact that the program is regulated by legislation, overseen by a federal agency, the Office of Personnel Management, and serves federal workers gives it the aura of public insurance even though it is not public insurance. And giving many Americans the same coverage as members of Congress is a politically potent — and appealing — concept for both lawmakers and the people they serve.
There’s much, much more to the NYT Prescriptions‘ post than the preceding excerpt — including a look at the drawbacks to this alternative — and I’d encourage everyone to give the entire post a comprehensive, open-minded read. We could very well end up with something like this.
In the meantime, three immediate, markedly unprofound reactions …
1. What took Congress so long to consider this alternative?
2. I had no idea the federal government employed 8 million people, which I’m estimating is somewhere around 3 percent of the working-age population.
3. Whatever shape the final adaptation of this program might take, it needs a better (shorter) acronym than F.E.H.B.P.