OPM to solicit contracts for dental and vision coverage in September

Two congressmen press OPM director to include regional providers in solicitation.

The Office of Personnel Management reaffirmed its obligation this week to offering federal workers supplemental dental and vision benefits.

OPM plans to post a synopsis of its solicitation for contracts on its Web site for public comment by Aug. 16.

A full solicitation for contract applications is scheduled to be published Sept. 16, with bids due Nov. 16, according to an OPM spokesman. OPM also said the benefits are still scheduled to be made available to employees in July 2006, as originally planned.

Those supplementary benefits will expand the offerings of the Federal Employees Health Benefits Plan, as a result of a bill passed last year by Congress. The dental and vision offerings will be voluntary and agencies will not contribute to the plans.

The Federal Business Opportunities Web site, the government's portal for procurement opportunities that cost more than $25,000, sent out an e-mail on Aug. 2 to solicit ideas for the program. According to an OPM spokesman, the announcement was sent to the FBO in advance of the scheduled posting date, and was inadvertently activated for about two hours and then taken down at OPM's request.

In a letter to members of Congress Monday, OPM Director Linda Springer wrote that OPM staff is "developing a proposed program design and administrative structure under which we will offer these new benefit programs."

Reps. Tom Davis, R-Va., chairman of the House Government Reform Committee, and Jon Porter, R-Nev., chairman of its Subcommittee on the Federal Workforce and Agency Organization, prompted her to make that pronouncement by writing to her on July 14, calling attention to the issue.

"The successful implementation of this new benefit will assist in making the health benefit package for federal employees a model for the private sector," the congressmen wrote. It would also "assist the federal government in the recruitment and retention of the best and the brightest federal workforce available."

Davis and Porter also urged OPM not to rule out regional health plans as possible benefit providers.

"The annuitants will be best served by a reasonable amount of programs offering a multitude of plan types and benefits," they wrote. Excluding regional options "would undermine our efforts to ensure this important and necessary principle."

Springer agreed with their assessment and added, "The solicitation will be broad enough to accommodate a wide variety of product types, including national and regional vendors."

The first letter was sent to Springer just two weeks after her confirmation as OPM director. Immediately after offering their congratulations, the congressmen moved to the topic of supplemental dental and vision coverage for federal workers.

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