- The Washington Times - Monday, August 22, 2005

This time next year, feds hope to have something new to smile about.

The Office of Personnel Management, which oversees the government’s health and retirement programs, is expecting several companies to bid on providing optional dental/vision packages to federal and postal workers and retired civil servants.

An order of Congress for years has frozen dental benefits in the dozen-plus plans available to feds and retirees in the Federal Employees Health Benefits Program. As a result, dental coverage mirrors health plans in the private sector. That is, it is not so good.

The best dental coverage as part of the FEHBP is offered by health maintenance organizations, but policyholders often need a guidebook and medical Latin lessons to understand which procedures are covered.

Although it is too soon to know how many plans will participate and what kinds of optional dental/vision benefits they will offer, feds might get a sneak preview by looking at optional dental plans offered by federal or postal unions.

A reader, Jack from Seattle, says the “fine print” of the contracts indicates that the plans have a maximum benefit of $1,000 per year.

“Under both plans, I would pay anywhere from $40 to $70 per month for single coverage. So I would pay $480 to $840 per year for $1,000 of coverage.” He said he had found better optional dental benefit packages on the Internet.

Unlike the FEHBP, for which the government pays most of the premiums, people who elect the optional dental/vision package will pay the full freight.

COLA bubbles

The inflation rate jumped 0.5 percent last month, based almost exclusively on higher prices for gasoline and oil. That increase has boosted the January cost-of-living adjustment for federal/military/Social Security retirees to 3.2 percent, up from about 2.7 percent.

There are still two months to go — August and September — in the COLA countdown, so the January increase for retirees and people who receive Social Security could be even bigger.

In any case, for the first time in years it will exceed the percentage pay raise that active-duty federal workers and military personnel get. The military is in line for a 3.1 percent raise. Civilian feds will get either the 2.3 percent proposed by the White House or the parity-with-the-military raise of 3.1 percent working its way through Congress.

Mike Causey, senior editor at Federal News Radio AM 1050, can be reached at 202/895-5132 or mcausey@federalnewsradio.com.

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