April 03, 2019

Van Hollen, Cardin, Democrats Introduce Bills to Protect Federal Health Benefits during Government Shutdowns

Today, U.S. Senators Chris Van Hollen and Ben Cardin (both D-Md.) along with Senators Tina Smith (D-Minn.), Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio), Tim Kaine (D-Va.), and Mark Warner (D-Va.) introduced a pair of bills aimed at protecting federal healthcare benefits in the event of a government shutdown. Similar bipartisan legislation was introduced in the House yesterday, led by Rep. Elijah Cummings (D-Md.).

The two bills introduced would amend current law to ensure that workers who have qualifying life events are able to make the proper adjustments to their health insurance plans and continue dental and vision benefits during lapses in federal funding. 

"The government shutdown stranded hundreds of thousands of our civil servants without pay for over a month. To add insult to injury, it also threw the health care coverage of some employees into uncertainty. No family should have to worry about the status of their medical coverage in the midst of a shutdown they had nothing to do with, especially as they face a life-changing event like the birth of child. That's why I've joined my colleagues in introducing these bills to help ensure that federal workers are able to maintain their health insurance coverage during a shutdown. I urge the Senate to take up these common-sense measures immediately," said Senator Van Hollen. 

“Federal workers are dedicated public servants who simply want to do their jobs on behalf of the American people. They should never again become political pawns caught up in a shutdown of our federal government. If another lapse in funding occurs, these public servants and their families should not suffer without health insurance for newborn babies or lose other critical health coverage,” said Senator Cardin. “We have a responsibility to ensure the health of federal workers does not become collateral damage to future gridlock.”

“During the most recent government shutdown, I received a heartbreaking note from a furloughed federal worker whose son was born prematurely,” said Senator Smith. “Because of the chaos surrounding what government functions were operating, his family faced confusion and uncertainty about the status of insurance coverage for their son’s newborn intensive care unit stay—something no family should have to deal with. We have a responsibility to federal employees to make sure they always can access their healthcare programs, regardless of politics. And that is just what these bills set out to do.”

“President Trump proved during his last shutdown that he is willing to betray workers and throw them into desperate situations if it serves him politically. Federal workers should never face a gap in coverage for reasons entirely outside of their control. This legislation will help ensure workers can always take care of their families,” said. Senator Brown

“During the 35-day shutdown, a furloughed federal worker from Alexandria told me that when a doctor prescribed medication for his seven-week-old daughter, he couldn’t immediately get her on his health insurance because his HR Department was furloughed too. Our hardworking federal employees should never have to go through the pain of a shutdown in the first place, and they should never have to fear losing access to their health benefits as a result. Our legislation would help ensure that federal workers and their families can get the care they need during a shutdown,” said Senator Kaine.     

“I’ve heard story after story about how the recent government shutdown caused significant financial hardship for Virginians. But stories like Brian Uholick’s really struck a nerve. During the 35-day shutdown, Brian struggled to get his newborn on his health insurance to ensure he could get the medication she needed because his own HR department was furloughed,” said Senator Warner. “It’s just not right. That’s why I joined my colleagues in introducing a set of bills to ensure the health and well-being of our federal workforce and their families.” 

Press reports during the recent shutdown indicated that federal employees had difficulty obtaining health insurance coverage for their newborns because some agencies were not processing new enrollments or changes to enrollments. 

There were also reports of employees possibly losing coverage if they did not pay their premiums for dental, vision, and long term care insurance because coverage would continue only for two or three pay periods, after which insurers would start billing employees directly.  

Both bills are supported by the American Federation of Government Employees, National Active and Retired Federal Employees Association, and International Federation of Professional and Technical Engineers.