Considering how few benefits specialists are left in most agencies, it’s not surprising how often incorrect information is given to employees. This is especially true when the questions being asked are about retirement and insurance matters.
One question that often gets answered incorrectly is this: “If I take an early voluntary retirement or am retired involuntarily, am enrolled in the Federal Employees Health Benefits program but have fewer than five years of continuous coverage, can I continue my health benefits coverage in retirement?” Too often the answer is, “No, but you can apply to OPM for a waiver. Oh, and good luck!”
Here’s what the answer should be. If you retire during your agency’s statutory buyout period and receive a buyout or take early retirement, whether voluntary or involuntary, under your agency’s early-out authority, you don’t need to write a letter to OPM requesting a waiver. It’s up to your agency to attach a memorandum to your retirement application which states that you meet the requirements for a pre-approved waiver. To do the trick, that memo has to include the number of the public law granting your agency’s buyout authority plus the beginning and ending dates of your agency’s buyout period.
Now, if you don’t meet the criteria to receive a pre-approved waiver, you can apply to OPM for an individual waiver. This is where that benefits specialist’s wry caution “Good luck!” is on target. While OPM has been given the authority to grant individual waivers, it rarely does so. That’s because the criteria are so stringent. OPM must find that it would be against equity and good conscience not to grant a waiver. Situations that meet those criteria are pretty rare.
Nevertheless, if you are one of those who is about to retire and won’t be eligible to carry your FEHB coverage into retirement, it doesn’t hurt to make your best case for being granted a waiver. The worst thing that can happen is that you’ll be turned down. The best is that it will be granted. Keep a good thought.