Efforts are underway to set up a program offering enhanced dental and vision benefits to federal employees and retirees.

The Office of Personnel Management has invited insurance companies to submit proposals describing how they would provide the benefits and has scheduled a Nov. 14 meeting to respond to questions from potential bidders. The companies have until January to submit benefit plans to OPM, which hopes to launch the program in December 2006.

Improved dental and vision benefits have been at the top of the wish list for many federal employees over the years. The government offers meager coverage to its workers. Reimbursement levels and annual maximum benefits are typically much less than those provided by private employers.

OPM, in its request for proposals, said it will contract with companies that "offer the greatest overall value to federal employees and annuitants."

Last year, Congress approved the creation of the benefit program but required that enrollees pay all premium costs. Even though the government will not subsidize the program, members of Congress hope that OPM will obtain affordable and favorable group rates for employees and retirees.

In the area of dental benefits, OPM said it will select vendors based on benefit offerings and prices. "We plan to contract with a variety of dental plans featuring a variety of benefit designs to provide a market-based choice to federal consumers," OPM said.

OPM told the companies that it expects them to cover in full or with a small co-pay several common preventive and diagnostic dental services, including sealants and topical fluoride treatments. The agency also stipulated that the maximum lifetime benefit for orthodontia should be at least $1,500.

For some major services, such as permanent crowns, bridges, dentures and root canal therapy, employees and retirees should pick up no more than 70 percent of the cost, OPM told bidders.

Bidders may propose a more generous benefit than OPM's minimum, and they may offer more than one benefit level, such as high and standard options.

OPM said it believes vision benefits "can be provided with a low-cost premium and still provide full coverage for annual eye examinations."

For vision benefits, OPM said it would like to see proposals that cover screening, testing and frames and lenses. Other plan features may include some type of coverage for tinting of lenses and laser surgery, OPM said.

Law Enforcement Pay and Benefits

Congressional staff members plan to meet with federal law enforcement groups this month or in early December to discuss government-wide changes in pay and benefits for officers.

An options paper prepared by the Republican staffs of House and Senate federal workforce subcommittees proposes that Congress look at creating a performance-based pay system and revamping pension benefits for law enforcement officers.

A spokesman for the FBI Agents Association said his group is grateful for the congressional interest in law enforcement personnel issues, such as a proposal to provide a housing allowance to officers assigned to high-cost cities.

The American Federation of Government Employees and National Treasury Employees Union -- both represent officers at the Department of Homeland Security -- said their initial review of the paper raised concerns about options that would give OPM wide leeway to set pay and pension policies.

Talk Shows

Rep. Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.) and David M. Walker, head of the Government Accountability Office, will be the guests on "FEDtalk" at 11 a.m. today on federalnewsradio.com and WFED radio (1050 AM).

Phyllis Scheinberg, assistant secretary for budget and chief operating officer at the Transportation Department, will be the guest on "The IBM Business of Government Hour" at 9 a.m. tomorrow on WJFK radio (106.7 FM).

"Do You Support This Administration?" will be the topic of discussion on the Imagene B. Stewart call-in program at 8 a.m. Sunday on WOL radio (1450 AM).

E-mail: barrs@washpost.com