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Federal employees' dental, vision benefits enhanced

WASHINGTON — Federal employees will be able to buy more comprehensive dental and vision benefits later this year, but the new coverage might force them to change dentists, personnel officials announced Wednesday.

The new dental and vision benefits, also available to employees’ dependents and federal retirees, were mandated by Congress after complaints that the current offerings packaged with general health insurance were too meager.

Linda Springer, director of the Office of Personnel Management (OPM), said the Federal Employees Health Benefit Program will have nine new dental insurance plans, six of which will be available to government workers anywhere overseas. Six vision plans will be offered as well, open to everyone.

Under the new plans, employees will get the entire cost of routine teeth and eye exams covered — minus a $10 co-pay, under some of the offerings — as well as more money for contact lenses and at least half the cost of routine procedures such as fillings or crown work.

Combined dental and vision plans range in price from $22.52 a month ($270.24 a year) for the cheapest single-person plan to $135.60 a month ($1,627.20 a year) for the most expensive full-family coverage.

Springer said federal employees will be able to sign up for the plans between Nov. 13 and Dec. 11, this year’s open enrollment window for government benefits. Actual coverage under the new plans will begin in January.

Anyone who signs up will be eligible for all dental and vision coverage immediately, with the exception of certain orthodontics work. Often, employees switching coverage must wait several months before they are covered for many procedures.

But all of the plans require employees to use “in-network” dentists to receive full compensation for their work, meaning anyone looking into the new coverage should check to see if their dentist and dental plan are compatible, OPM officials said. Using dentists outside the insurance carrier’s list might still leave patients paying the whole bill.

How that will affect federal employees overseas is unclear. Officials could not say whether the insurance companies would consider foreign dentists “in network,” but said those details will be available when the various programs’ overviews are made available on their Web site prior to the start of open enrollment.

The office is projecting a 1.8 percent average increase in health premiums next year, with employees in HMO plans seeing an average 6.3 percent increase in their prices. But Springer said more than 63 percent of the approximately 4 million federal employees receiving benefits will see no raise whatsoever.

About 8 million people worldwide receive health care coverage through the federal health care offerings.

Used with permission from the Stars and Stripes. Copyright 2006 Stars and Stripes

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