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FEMA reservists get health insurance

OPM expedites new rule in aftermath of Hurricane Sandy
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Temporary emergency response workers can now receive federal health benefits under an interim final rule the Office of Personnel Management published Nov. 14.

The rule (.pdf) lets the Federal Emergency Management Agency apply to offer health insurance to its reservists, who only work during emergency response.

Emergency response workers face environmental hazards not unlike those that firefighters face when they respond to wildfires, OPM notes. Yet temporary firefighters can receive federal health benefits under an interim regulation that OPM issued in July.

Like temporary firefighters, FEMA's reservists, formerly known as disaster assistance employees, will only receive federal benefits when called in to work.

Hurricane Sandy was the impetus for the rule, OPM says. Thousands of FEMA employees, many of them reservists, deployed after the storm.

Usually, agencies have to publish a notice of proposed rulemaking before issuing final rules, but OPM waived that requirement because of Sandy. New rules also usually wait 30 days to take effect after being issued, but this one is effective immediately.

Because of the amount of destruction Sandy has wrought, "the federal government has a critical need to deploy additional qualified emergency response workers to serve the American people," OPM says.

While they're called up, reservists can use their health insurance to cover not only hazards they encounter while working, but also preventive care and early detection of serious conditions, OPM notes.

For more:
- download the interim final rule from the Federal Register (.pdf)

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