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Health insurance becomes collateral damage in the government shutdown as some workers face bills for medical costs

February 22, 2019

Jazz Sexton was hired as a representative at the IRS toward the end of 2018. Her health insurance was being processed when the government closed.

In limbo and without coverage, she was looking at a nearly $1,000 out-of-pocket cost for her antidepressant, Celexa. She didn’t have the money. She weened herself off the medication, first cutting her remaining pills in half, then quarters, until she was out of them.

“I was dizzy, things looked brighter to me,” Sexton, 32, said. “I was having very strange symptoms.”

Health insurance for government employees has become another casualty of the longest federal government shutdown in history.

Jazz Sexton had to wait longer than expected for her health insurance to kick in at her new job at the IRS.

Source: Jazz Sexton
Jazz Sexton had to wait longer than expected for her health insurance to kick in at her new job at the IRS.

Government employees are guaranteed coverage throughout shutdowns, but new hires or those who recently made changes to their plan could find themselves caught in the bureaucratic slowdown.

And if the gridlock persists, unpaid federal workers could be billed directly for their share of health-care costs, which are normally subtracted from their paychecks.

If they can’t afford those bills, their coverage could be terminated.

The National Association of Insurance Commissioners released a statement explaining that the shutdown could result in financial hardships for some people and encouraging insurance companies “to exercise judicious efforts to assist these policyholders and work with them to make sure that their insurance policy does not lapse.”

The situation is more dire still for federal contractors, some of whom are receiving notice already that their health insurance has expired or will do so within the next few weeks. There were some 4.1 million government contractors in 2017, according to Paul Light, a professor of public service at New York University.

Andrew Leyder, a data analyst on contract at the Department of Transportation in Washington, D.C., received the bad news in an email from his boss this week, “After negotiating with CareFirst for weeks since this very painful government shutdown, we regret to announce that, due to lack of payment, our group health insurance was terminated on Thursday.”


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