Legislation offered in the House (HR-4806), represents the latest in a series of attempts to fill one of the major gaps in insurance coverage the government offers to federal employees. It would create a short-term disability insurance program for conditions not covered by the FECA workers’ comp program and that could be used, for example, as paid parental leave.

“While federal employees may have available sick or annual leave days, they may not have enough such days to pay the bills if they have to be out of work for an extended period. Although there are long-term disability options for federal employees who become permanently disabled, federal employees do not qualify for such benefits until they have worked for the federal government for at least 18 months,” said sponsor Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton, D-D.C.

Under her bill, the government would contract with one or more private insurance companies to offer coverage for injuries, illnesses and conditions that are not work-related. No one could be excluded due to pre-existing conditions and benefits would be payable for up to one year. Enrollees would pay the full cost with no government contribution but the large size of the potential enrollee pool would help hold down premiums versus what privately purchased policies would cost, she said.

The Bush administration and some in Congress favored creating a short-term disability insurance policy but interest waned after OPM estimated that the cost to enrollees would be about $1,000 a year for coverage that likely would provide paid parental leave for mothers, but not for fathers. Since then, several proposals similar to the new one have been offered but have not advanced in Congress.