Subpanel votes to hike maximum dependent age for federal health benefits

By Dan Friedman CongressDaily May 2, 2008

The House Oversight and Government Reform Federal Workforce Subcommittee passed a bill this week increasing the maximum age under which children of federal employee can qualify for dependent coverage through the government's health benefits program.

The measure, which raises the maximum age of dependents eligible for the Federal Employees Health Benefits Plan from 22 to 25, passed by unanimous voice vote after a hearing in which representatives of federal employees' unions urged its passage.

The committee also by unanimous voice vote passed a substitute amendment offered by House Oversight and Government Reform Federal Workforce Subcommittee Chairman Danny Davis, D-Ill., intended to comply with House pay-as-you go rules.

Davis' amendment would give children of employees already covered through the program, the option to voluntarily enroll in a new plan. Health providers would then bid to cover individual enrollees.

That step would ensure "the cost would be less than what is currently available to this age group in the individual market," Davis said.

Davis and Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton, D-D.C., whose district includes many federal employees, expressed concern the bill could be derailed if the Congressional Budget Office scores it unfavorably. The Office of Personnel Management covering about 245,000 dependents now in the program for an extra three years would cost about $200 million.

Subcommittee members disputed that estimate, arguing that increasing the number of young people in the program would reduce premiums. Norton suggested OPM should hire an independent company with insurance experience to estimate the bill's cost.

"The wisdom of the bill itself cannot be doubted," she said, arguing that it would help cut the number of young adults without health insurance.