Sebelius stays on just long enough to get government benefits

Alex Pappas | Political Reporter

When the embattled Kathleen Sebelius announced her intention to resign as secretary of Health and Human Services, she pledged to stay in President Barack Obama’s cabinet until her replacement was confirmed by the Senate.

Turns out, there may be a financial incentive for the former Kansas governor to take her time getting out of Washington.

Next week, Sebelius becomes eligible to receive a government pension and continue certain taxpayer-funded health-care benefits when she hits her five-year employment mark with the federal government, Office of Personnel Management (OPM) policy indicates.

Under OPM rules, Sebelius, who was sworn into office on April 28, 2009, would be eligible to receive these benefits after completing five years of continuous service in the federal government.

While she announced her resignation on April 11, Sebelius does not mark her five-year anniversary with the federal government until April 28. Her successor is not expected to be sworn in until after that date. The Senate, which is on recess, comes back into session the same day Sebelius hits the five year mark.

Asked to confirm the existence of these benefits for Sebelius, an OPM spokesman would only direct TheDC to a website that answers questions for government retirees.

But according to a Daily Caller analysis based on information on the agency’s website, Sebelius, under the Federal Employee Retirement System, could receive an estimated $10,000 pension from the government each year.

This pension is calculated by averaging her top three years worth of salary, which is $199,700 a year, according to reports. Under OPM policy, she gets 1 percent of that amount multiplied by the years served. Five percent of a $200,000 a year salary would amount to a $10,000-a-year pension for the rest of her life.

To be vested in that pension at all, a person has to have worked a minimum of five years, under OPM policy.

“If she left this week, her pension would be zero,” a source with knowledge of these benefits explained to TheDC.

Sebelius is 65. The OPM website indicates that federal employees that are at least 62 years of age and have worked for five years are eligible for immediate retirement. Under this policy, Sebelius could start receiving benefits 30 days after she stops working.

She is also eligible to continue receiving government-subsidized contributions to her health care. Sebelius, according to reports, is enrolled in Medicare and in the Federal Employees Health Benefits (FEHB) program.

Under the law, Sebelius and her family may be eligible to continue these FEHB benefits. To qualify for this, federal workers must retire from the federal government at the age of 55 or older and have served at least five consecutive years in the federal government.

An OPM Q&A on its website said FEHB benefits and premiums change will not change for qualified retirees: “You will be entitled to the same benefits and annual premiums as federal employees enrolled in the same plan,” the website states.

Reached for comment, a HHS spokesman would not specifically address retirement benefits, but said of Sebelius, “She has said she intends to stay at HHS through the confirmation of the next secretary in order to ensure a smooth transition for the agency and its important mission.”

“Secretary Sebelius has said she did not consider leaving the administration at the end of the first term because HHS was in the midst of such important and ongoing work to implement the ACA,” the spokesman said. “In early March, she decided that when the first open enrollment period concluded and millions of Americans had signed up for good, affordable coverage, it was a logical time to leave, so that the president could appoint another secretary who wanted to serve until the end of the second term.”

President Barack Obama has nominated Sylvia Mathews Burwell, the director of the White House Office of Management and Budget, to replace Sebelius. Senate Republicans are expected to use Burwell’s upcoming hearings to relitigate Obamacare.

Sebelius — who the Washington Post reported last year is worth between $502,000 to $4.9 million — is the former Democratic governor of Kansas. Her tenure at Health and Human Services was marked by the rocky rollout of Obamacare under her watch, and the initial problems facing HealthCare.gov.

But speaking in the Rose Garden earlier this month, Obama praised Sebelius for her work on health care.

“In early March, Kathleen Sebelius, my secretary of Health and Human Services, told me she’d be moving on once the first open enrollment period under the Affordable Care Act came to an end,” Obama said. “And after five years of extraordinary service to our country — and 7.5 million Americans who have signed up for health coverage through the exchanges — she’s earned that right.”

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