Here's one that will make you grind your teeth:
A new program to offer enhanced dental and vision benefits to federal employees and retirees is being delayed until December 2006, the Office of Personnel Management announced yesterday. OPM had previously said the program would begin in July.
Many federal employees have eagerly awaited the program's launch. The government offers meager dental and vision coverage to its workers, with reimbursement levels and annual maximum benefits that are much less than those provided by private-sector employers.
Rather than offer enrollment in the spring, OPM said, the dental-vision benefit will be launched next autumn and coincide with the November-December open season for health insurance and flexible spending accounts.
"OPM favors this approach, noting simultaneous open seasons will give individuals access to the full complement of information they need to compare features of each program and to make informed choices on benefits and coverage levels," the agency said in a news release.
Congress approved the program last year, in large part because it will require enrollees to pay all premium costs. Supporters of the legislation, which was sponsored by Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine) and Rep. Thomas M. Davis III (R-Va.), said they intended that OPM harness the government's purchasing power to obtain affordable and favorable group rates for employees and retirees. The law creating the program calls for it to be established in 2006.
OPM had drafted a proposal for the program and had planned to issue the "statement of work" this week. But regional insurance companies faulted the program, raising concerns about overhead costs, the role of health maintenance organizations, the maximum benefit design and whether OPM would be limiting competition by restricting the types and numbers of participating plans.
Susan Bryant, OPM spokeswoman, said the agency had asked for comments, and "they are being considered." She said a revised statement of work will be issued within the next few weeks.
Bryant said tying the start of dental-vision benefits to the health insurance enrollment period next December will make it easier for employees to do their financial and tax planning.
L Funds Take Off
More than 100,000 participants in the Thrift Savings Plan have invested more than $3 billion in lifecycle funds since they became available six weeks ago, officials said yesterday.
The L Funds also lived up to their goals, assuming that any insights can be drawn from the mixed returns in the stock market last month. In their inaugural month, the L Funds were not the best performer nor the worst performer in the TSP portfolio.
The five L Funds ended August on a positive note, posting returns that ranged from .07 percent to .17 percent. Two popular stock funds, large U.S. stocks (C) and small-to-midsize U.S. stocks (S) were down -- the C Fund by .9 percent and the S by 1.01 percent.
Three other TSP funds -- international stocks (I), U.S. bonds (F) and government securities (G) -- were winners. The I Fund returned 3.23 percent, the F Fund 1.23 percent and the G Fund .37 percent.
Although the first-time returns of L Funds drew the attention of the TSP board at its meeting yesterday, officials cautioned against reading too much into the data and urged federal employees to not base their investment decisions on short-term results.
The L Funds are geared for long-term investing and emphasize diversification, rebalancing of assets and assuming the right level of risk for the participant's draw-down date. Over time, the funds should produce smoother returns than TSP stock funds, said James B. Petrick, the TSP's chief financial officer.
The L Funds use the TSP's other five funds as their foundation and allocate money among those funds based on when a participant expects to begin withdrawals. There is a current income fund for those in retirement or very close to it, and 2010, 2020, 2030 and 2040 funds for projected withdrawals in those time frames.
The funds shift from aggressive to conservative investments as participants near the time they will start drawing down their savings.
Of the L Funds, the 2020 Fund appears to be the most popular. It ended August with $1.24 billion in assets. That may reflect interest among employees who are well along in their careers but not ready to retire in the next few years.
The TSP is in the midst of a major education campaign to encourage investors to consider the L Funds. Officials created them out of concern that too many employees were not taking the time to rebalance their accounts or were making bad investment decisions by trying to chase hot market sectors.