Midweek Potpourri

OPM issued a press release today concerning the opportunity for employees to convert from self and family to self plus one coverage during the month of February.  OPM has to create this special opportunity because employees make their contributions toward FEHB coverage with pre-tax dollars.  Annuitants and other enrollees who make their contributions with after tax dollars can drop down an enrollment level at any time.

Modern Healthcare published an article yesterday contending that Sen. Tom Carper’s postal reform bill would “push” Postal Service annuitants aged 65 and older into Medicare. Hey Modern Healthcare, those annuitants already are in Medicare for the most part.  Senator Carper’s bill would better integrate FEHBP with Medicare, which is an objective that OPM shares.  It’s not punitive, and the savings would benefit the Postal Service and Postal service employees and annuitants.

Govexec.com is reporting that the Obama Administration is mobilizing to stop the spread of the Zika virus.  The University of Connecticut, the FEHBlog’s alma mater, offered an illuminating article this morning concerning that virus which has “dengue fever like symptoms.

Should people be worried?
Once Brazilian officials learned about the link between Zika virus and microcephaly, they took the unprecedented action of advising women in the most affected areas to avoid or delay pregnancy. The Brazilian outbreak has now spread to a number of countries in South and Central America, including the Caribbean, and more recently, Mexico, and thus cases of microcephaly in these areas are also likely to start rising in the next few months. Even in Brazil, as infected pregnant mothers continue to reach full term, these numbers are expected to increase. That has led the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) to recently issue travel advisories to the countries battling the outbreak. So at this very moment, unless you have traveled or are planning to travel to these areas while pregnant, you should not be worried. 

Do you see Zika becoming widespread in the U.S.? If so, how soon?
In the U.S., a dozen cases of human infection have been reported, but so far they have all been acquired abroad. The potential for what we call autochthonous, or local, transmission exists, because the Aedes mosquitos that are required to transmit the virus are present in the U.S., particularly in the southeast. Locally acquired cases of Zika virus infection have been reported in Mexico and Puerto Rico, so the potential for active transmission in the U.S., particularly as summer approaches, is real. The World Health Organization (WHO) now estimates that all countries in the Americas, with the exception of continental Chile and Canada, where Aedes mosquitos are not found, will likely have outbreaks. As an example, Hawaii is currently battling an outbreak of dengue fever in the Big Island transmitted by Aedes mosquitos. But in general, any outbreaks in the U.S. will be restricted to areas where Aedes mosquitos are found, and careful surveillance, vector control, and other preventive practices such as use of insect repellent, should minimize their effects.