The Office of Personnel Management took steps today to extend federal health insurance coverage eligibility to temporary firefighters and fire protection personnel working on wildland fires across the country.
OPM published an interim final regulation under the Federal Employee Health Benefits (FEHB) program, in response to direction from President Obama, that ensures federal firefighters and their families will have access to the same health insurance afforded to full time federal employees, according to a statement issued by OPM Director John Berry.
OPM worked with the Department of Agriculture and the Department of the Interior – the two agencies that employ wildland federal firefighting forces – to provide thousands of temporary federal firefighters and their families with a simple, expedited process to gain access to the coverage they deserve, OPM officials said.
The ruling change was needed because many federal firefighters are considered temporary employees and because of the seasonal nature of their work. Under previous regulations, they were not eligible for health insurance coverage under the FEHB program, which provides insurance to other federal employees, retirees, and their families.
“Ever since I served as mayor of Mount Pleasant, Iowa, I’ve had a deep respect for our firefighters – and I know that when a federal firefighter is heading out to the line to defend Americans’ lives and property from dangerous, destructive wildfire, it doesn’t matter whether they’re a “temporary” firefighter or not,” said U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack. “Today’s announcement means that every one of our federal firefighters will have the health coverage he or she deserves – and that’s something we can be proud of.”
U.S. Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar also praised the new ruling, saying, “The men and women who join the battle against devastating wildfires across the nation each summer take on the same risks as their full-time colleagues, and they deserve the same health benefits for their courageous work.”
There is a 60 day comment period for the public to provide additional feedback on the new regulations. OPM plans to issue additional guidance on enrollment and administration of this regulation to agencies through the Chief Human Capital Officers Council and to agency benefits officers through a benefits administration letter.