Will a Government Shutdown Affect Federal Benefits Open Season?
Update: On Wednesday, November 15, 2023, the Senate approved a stopgap spending bill and sent it to the President’s desk for signature.
The bill extends the current operation of the U.S. government in a two-tiered fashion, with the last of the temporary funding expiring in February 2024. The continuing resolution funds the government temporarily while lawmakers attempt to create a federal budget covering the entire year in 2024.
At press time, there is no full-year federal budget waiting to be approved, and the President has not yet signed the bill into law.
Could a government shutdown interfere with federal benefits Open Season? At press time there’s no government budget plan in sight and the threat of a shutdown looms once more as lawmakers dither on Capitol Hill.
The New York Times notes that when the country got 10 days out from the threat of yet another shutdown in 2023, “There was little movement in either the House or the Senate as lawmakers sorted through a litany of possible funding mechanisms, none of which enjoy strong support in either chamber.“
Will the Federal Government Shut Down On November 18 2023?
It seems likely that a shutdown will happen, or that a full federal budget won’t get passed. Many anticipate yet another short term funding bill to keep the government functioning for another short amount of time,
The Times and many other news outlets note the country is right back where it was in September when lawmakers failed to compromise on the most basic issue in government; paying for its existence.
Congress only averted a shutdown in September because of a last-minute stopgap spending package which is due to expire before Thanksgiving.
“Trust us,” the House Speaker says even as others in the same chamber say they don’t know how future problems related to a federal government shutdown will play out. USAToday quotes Representative John Rutherford, a member of the House Appropriations Committee, who says,
“I think it’s just physically impossible that we can get all of the appropriation bills through, all of the conferencing done with the Senate,”
Such statements leave those in military communities wondering whether or not this lack of decision making in Washington will affect the military in ways that include the ability to sign up for, modify, or cancel federal benefits during open season.
If the federal government is shut down, how can the offices that process benefits applications continue to function?
Federal Benefits Open Season
Monday November 13, 2023 is the start of open season for healthcare benefits for TRICARE, FEDVIP, and FEHB among other programs.
Open Season is a limited period of time for federal employees including military members, “to reassess their health, dental, and vision coverage and ensure their plans are cost-efficient and address the care enrollees and their families need” according to the Office of Professional Management (OPM) official site.
During Open Season federal employees can start or change healthcare benefits, life insurance benefits and more,
“Federal employees and annuitants should take advantage of Open Season to conduct a wellness and financial check-up for their health care coverage to ensure they are getting the most from their benefits,” said Kiran Ahuja, Director of the U.S. Office of Personnel Management who is quoted in an OPM press release.
But if Open Season overlaps with a shutdown, you might be surprised to learn that it will continue no matter what lawmakers decide in Washington. Why?
Open Season Continues With Or Without a Government Shutdown
During a federal government shutdown, federal agencies with work unrelated to national security, health and other critical services are furloughed without pay. Military members may be required to work without pay (which is reimbursed later) unless a stopgap bill is passed to prevent that.
But the agencies that manage Open Season do NOT close because that funding is not dependent on a yearly budget appropriation. Open Season is funded even when the rest of the federal government is not, at least in terms of the annual spending bills which must be passed to keep the government operating as normal.
Even if some of these agencies did shut down, federal programs continue to make premium payments in these programs thanks to a rule passed in 2021 following a one-month shutdown in 2018.
Open Season runs from November 13 to December 11, The federal government has until November 17 2023 to either pass a new federal budget or a stopgap funding bill to temporarily extend funding a second time.
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About the author
Editor-in-Chief Joe Wallace is a 13-year veteran of the United States Air Force and a former reporter/editor for Air Force Television News and the Pentagon Channel. His freelance work includes contract work for Motorola, VALoans.com, and Credit Karma. He is co-founder of Dim Art House in Springfield, Illinois, and spends his non-writing time as an abstract painter, independent publisher, and occasional filmmaker.