The government is trying to protect members of its benefits program against future Katrina-like catastrophes.

The federal Office of Personnel Management is seeking the authority to shift employees into the standard option of the nationwide Blue Cross and Blue Shield Service benefit plan automatically if a disaster forces an emergency discontinuance of their usual health plans and there is no practical way to notify the affected employees about the need to change health plans.

Comments on the proposal are due May 8.

The OPM already has regulations dealing discontinuations of plan options that occur because a carrier shuts down or withdraws from the federal health benefits program.

Normally, the government is supposed to notify employees who belong to those plans that they have to change plans, OPM officials write in a notice published in the Federal Register.

In those cases, the OPM already has the authority to make new health plan arrangements for employees who fail to change plans.

“In light of the devastation wrought by Hurricane Katrina, OPM is expanding the definition of a health plan to include situations in which a plan becomes incapable of providing services, either on a permanent or temporary basis, because of a disaster,” officials write. “In such a situation enrollees will be allowed to change health plans. However, depending on the nature of the disaster, it may not be possible to locate enrollees to notify them of the need to change health plans.”

The OPM wants to have the discretion to shift employees into the national Blue Cross plan if a disaster strikes, officials write.

“OPM will provide whatever notification is feasible, if a disaster necessitates enrollment changes under these provisions,” officials write.

A copy of the proposed rule is on the Web at Document Link