March 10, 2010

(Washington, DC) — Seventy-four percent of those enrolled in the Federal Health Benefits Program (FEHBP) oppose a new effort by Congress to change the program’s prescription drug benefits, according to a new poll released by the Pharmaceutical Care Management Association (PCMA).

The survey of 305 civilian federal employees in the Washington, DC metro area was conducted in response to the FEHBP Prescription Drug Integrity, Transparency, and Cost Savings Act (H.R. 4489) sponsored by Representatives Stephen Lynch (D-MA), Gerald Connolly (D-VA), Elijah Cummings (D-MD), and Lloyd Doggett (D-TX). The bill would give Congress the power to set prices, limit the pharmacy organizations that can participate, and force the Office of Personnel Management (OPM), which administers FEHBP, to make other changes as well.

Currently, FEHBP uses the same approach to pharmacy benefits as Fortune 500 companies, Medicare Part D and other benefits programs which rely upon consumer choice and competition rather than price controls to hold down costs and maintain flexible benefits. Eighty-three percent of FEHBP’s enrollees are satisfied with their prescription drug coverage, according to the survey.

“These new data clearly show that politicians supporting legislation to change FEHBP’s pharmacy benefit could be walking into a political minefield. By lopsided margins, federal workers like their prescription drug benefits, like the way OPM administers FEHBP, and think Congress could make things worse, not better, by trying to micromanage it,” said PCMA President and CEO Mark Merritt.

Key findings from the Ayres, McHenry & Associates survey include:

  • Civilian federal employees in the DC metro area are overwhelmingly satisfied with the Federal Employees Health Benefits Program, and with their prescription drug coverage. These federal employees say they are satisfied with the prescription drug program by an 83 to 14 percent margin.
  • These employees overwhelmingly prefer a benefits system that has no price controls but greater choice to a system that offers fewer choices but has the government set prices. Civilian federal employees in the DC area prefer the “current FEHBP system which offers more choices but the government does not set prices” to a “system like some other government programs, which offer fewer choices but has the government set prices” by a 74 to 22 percent margin.
  • DC area civilian federal employees think the Office of Personnel Management does a good job of making sure the FEHBP offers health benefits that are as good as those offered in the private sector, and think Congress should leave the OPM in charge of their benefits. These employees think the OPM does a good job in this regard by a 78 to 13 percent margin. Employees think Congress should leave the OPM in charge of any changes to the FEHBP, rather than Congress being in charge of those changes, by a 74 to 25 percent margin.
  • These employees think Congress should allow federal employees to choose the plan that works best for them regardless of whether the plans are owned by pharmacy chains or health plans. When asked whether “Congress should pass a law prohibiting prescription drug plans from participating in federal employees programs if they are owned by pharmacy chains or health plans” or “Congress should allow federal employees to choose the plan that works best for them, regardless of whether they are owned by pharmacy chains or health plans,” federal employees prefer maintaining the choice for themselves by an 86 to 12 percent margin.
  • A majority of federal employees agree that Congress will hurt the quality of their benefits if it takes more of a role in regulating their benefits, and think Congress should make any changes to Congress’ own plan before applying changes for all federal employees. These civilian federal employees think Congress will hurt rather than help their benefits if it becomes more involved in regulating their benefits by a 60 to 24 percent margin, and agree that Congress should make changes to its own plan first by a 90 to 8 percent margin.

Read the Full Survey.