Senator’s Bills Protecting Federal Healthcare Benefits in the Event of a Government Shutdown Now Law

WASHINGTON D.C. [01/14/20]—U.S. Senators Tina Smith (D-Minn.), and Sens. Ben Cardin (D-Md.), Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.), Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio), Tim Kaine (D-Va.), and Mark Warner (D-Va.) fought to secure protections for federal healthcare benefits in the event of a government shutdown, and these measures were signed into law in December as part of the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA). Similar bipartisan legislation was introduced in the House by the late Rep. Elijah Cummings (D-Md.), who fought to include these measures in NDAA before his passing.

The legislation ensures that workers who have qualifying life events are able to make the proper adjustments to their health insurance plans and continue dental and vision benefits during lapses in federal funding.  

“I received a heartbreaking note from a furloughed federal worker whose son was born prematurely during the most recent government shutdown,” said Sen. Smith, a member of the Senate Health Committee. “There was uncertainty surrounding what government functions were operating, and his family faced confusion about the status of insurance coverage for their son’s stay at the newborn intensive care unit. No family should have to deal with something like this. We fought hard to make sure federal employees can always access their healthcare programs regardless of politics. And that’s just what we did.”

“Hardworking federal employees should never be stuck in the middle of our fiscal crises, but they have been — over and over again. Step by step we are working to ensure these dedicated workers are held harmless,” said Sen. Cardin.“This new law builds on our efforts to protect the pay of federal workers during federal shut downs. It is our responsibility to assure these public servants, mostly middle class and struggling to get by like so many others, that they will be able to access their health benefits while carrying out their missions on behalf of the American people. It is the right thing to do.”

“During last year’s shameful Trump shutdown, hundreds of thousands of civil servants were locked out of their jobs or forced to work without pay. What’s more, families experiencing life-changing events – like the birth or adoption of a child – were burdened by uncertain healthcare coverage. This provision ensures federal workers and their families will never again have to face that hardship. I will continue fighting to protect and support our federal workforce,” said Sen. Van Hollen.

“President Trump proved during his last shutdown that he is willing to betray workers and throw them into desperate situations if it serves him politically. Federal workers should never face a gap in coverage for reasons entirely outside of their control. This legislation will help ensure workers can always take care of their families,” said. Sen. Brown.

“During the 35-day-long government shutdown, a furloughed federal worker from Alexandria, Virginia told me that when a doctor prescribed medication for his seven-week-old daughter, he couldn’t immediately get her on his health insurance because his HR Department was furloughed too,” said Sen. Kaine. “Our federal employees should never have to endure this pain. I’m glad we were able to protect federal health benefits with this legislation.” 

“During the 35-day shutdown last year, federal employees across the Commonwealth were unable to make crucial adjustments to their health plans in a timely fashion. DOJ employee Brian Uholik, for example, had trouble getting his newborn daughter enrolled in his health plan and on the medication she needed. I cannot imagine the fear the Uholik family faced, or that of any other family facing a similar situation during the President’s irresponsible shutdown,” said Sen. Warner. “That’s why my colleagues and I are fighting to protect health care coverage in case any President tries to take us down the path of another disastrous shutdown.” 

Sens. Smith and her colleagues first introduced a pair of bills aimed at protecting federal health benefits during government shutdowns in April of last year. Earlier that year, Sen. Smith took to the Senate floor to share letters from Minnesota air traffic controllers hurt by the then-ongoing government shutdown. Among the several letters that she read on the Senate floor, Sen. Smith shared a letter from a new father in Minnesota who said that his son had been born during the shutdown and had been in intensive care since birth. The father went on to share that both he and his wife weren’t being paid, and he ended this letter with: “Please do what you can to reopen the government and leave us with one less worry.” Sen. Smith is glad to have made good on her promise to help families and workers in Minnesota and across the country.

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