A leading House Republican on federal employment matters has introduced a bill (HR-2400) to open the FEHB doors to the general public, and is urging the Senate to consider the idea as it considers health insurance reform.

Rep. Darrell Issa, R-Calif., a former chair of the Oversight and Government Reform Committee and still active in civil service issues, suggested that the Senate consider that idea as it rewrites a controversial House-passed bill to repeal the Affordable Care Act while retaining certain provisions under a new formula.

In a letter to a Senate working group, Issa said that one problem with the ACA is the lack of choice in many of the state-based insurance “exchanges” created under that law. Offering the general public access to plans available under the FEHB “would provide a backstop to offer more choices in many markets that currently only offer one option on the state insurance exchanges. The hundreds of plans offered would also expand access to high-quality plan offerings, allow portability from job to job, and take advantage of the large risk pool already created by the federal workforce,” he wrote.

Under his bill, there would be no government contribution toward premiums–the government pays about 70 percent of the total FEHB premium cost for federal employees and retirees–although employers of private sector enrollees could make contributions at their discretion.

More crucially, under his plan, the members of the public joining the FEHB would be put in the same risk pool as the eight million currently covered employees, retirees and family members. The effects on premiums and coverage terms in response to the resulting change in demographics are unknown.

The potential for increased premiums and for the current FEHB population to become a minority force in their own program has been a major argument by organizations representing federal employees and retirees against similar past proposals.