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New Dental, Vision Program to Come With Fall Benefits Enrollment

By Stephen Barr
Friday, March 3, 2006

Planning for a program that will offer enhanced dental and vision benefits to federal employees and retirees is on track, with enrollment scheduled for late fall.

Linda M. Springer , director of the Office of Personnel Management, said this week that the sign-up for new dental and vision benefits will be held at the same time -- usually late November or early December -- that government workers and retirees select their health insurance plans and renew their flexible spending accounts.

OPM had considered rolling out the new benefit program in July, but Springer said at the National Treasury Employees Union legislative conference that officials concluded it made more sense, and would help financial planning by employees, to introduce the dental-vision program during the enrollment season for health insurance.

Congress approved the new program in 2004 but required that enrollees pay all premiums.

While the government will not pick up a share of the premium, as it does for health insurance, members of Congress have signaled that they expect OPM to obtain favorable group rates for federal employees and retirees.

According to testimony at congressional hearings, the government offers meager dental and vision benefits to its workers.

Reimbursement levels and annual maximum benefits fall short of those provided by large companies, experts testified.

Insurance companies turned in their proposals last month, and OPM plans to wrap up negotiations and award contracts by late May.

Improved dental and vision benefits have been a top request of federal employees for several years. The law creating the program also includes a new enrollment option that should prove popular among retirees and couples with no children in their households.

The dental-vision program plans to offer "self plus one" as an enrollment option, in addition to the standard choices of "self" and "family."

Lobby Time

This is legislative lobbying time for two large federal unions.

The National Treasury Employees Union wrapped up its conference yesterday, attended by about 300 activists representing union members in more than 20 federal agencies.

Colleen M. Kelley , union president, said pay, health care, and outsourcing of tax collection work at the Internal Revenue Service and the Department of Homeland Security were among NTEU's top agenda items for this year.

The American Federation of Government Employees brings about 1,000 activists to Capitol Hill Sunday through Thursday.

Part of the AFGE conference will focus on developing grass-roots organizing strategies. Speakers include John Gage , the union president, and Hans Riemer , the Washington director of Rock the Vote.

Retirements

Fred W. Apelquist III , chief of staff for the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency security office, retired Jan. 3 after 35 years of federal service.

He previously served at the Internal Revenue Service, where he managed the electronic tax law assistance project, which has provided e-mail service to taxpayers since March 1996.

Glenn Daugherty , a printing inspector for the Federal Aviation Administration, retires today after 35 years of federal service.

His service includes four years in the Army, including a year in Vietnam, and 23 years at the Defense Mapping Agency.

Talk Shows

Philip Fish , a financial planner and author of "28 Days to Financial Health," will be the guest on "FedTalk" at 11 a.m. today on Federal News Radio at http://federalnewsradio.com and WFED (1050 AM).

Henrietta Holsman Fore , undersecretary for management at the State Department, will be the guest on "The IBM Business of Government Hour" at 9 a.m. Saturday on WJFK radio (106.7 FM).

Stephen Barr can be reached atbarrs@washpost.com.

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