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Key developments in the world of federal employee benefits: health, pay, and much more.

Expanded Access to Dental Insurance, Rising Participation in Blended Retirement and More

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The Office of Personnel Management announced last week that military retirees and family members will soon gain expanded access to government-administered dental and vision insurance.

Until this year, most federal civilian retirees, their family members, retired reservists and military survivors have been eligible to enroll in the Federal Employees Dental and Vision Insurance Program. The 2017 National Defense Authorization Act granted additional eligibility to military retirees and their families and to dependents of active duty service members.

The TRICARE Retiree Dental Plan, which provides coverage to most of the those newly eligible for FEDVIP, will phase out at the end of 2018. Current enrollees will have the opportunity to choose a FEDVIP plan during OPM’s insurance open season, which will run from Nov. 12 through Dec. 10.

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In a press release, OPM stressed that there is no automatic enrollment in FEDVIP for people who were covered by the TRICARE Retiree Dental Program before the transition. The agency has launched a website to provide information for the approximately 5.4 million newly eligible feds and their families and help ease the transition process.

Officials at the federal government’s 401(k)-style retirement savings program announced Monday that the Thrift Savings Plan saw the number of military personnel enrolled in the new Blended Retirement System has crossed the 200,000 mark.

Beginning January 1, 2019, the federal government began matching active duty service members’ TSP contributions, in exchange for offering a less generous defined-benefit pension plan. All new recruits to the armed services are automatically enrolled in Blended, while already serving personnel have until the end of 2018 to opt into the program.

TSP Director of Participant Services Tee Ramos said that as of May 31, 205,274 people had opted into the new program, and participation among active duty military topped 52 percent. But he noted that the number of opt-ins are slightly below projections, because of a misunderstanding over people who pre-enlisted before January 1.

“We’re running a little behind projections because, in our projections, we were projecting the [automatic enrollment in Blended numbers] included people who signed their contracts in 2017 but were deferred enlistments [until this year],” Ramos said. “But it turns out that they’re not actually automatically enrolled. They have to opt in.”

Last week, a Senate panel pushed back against President Trump’s proposed pay freeze for all civilian federal employees next year, and instead approved an appropriations bill that includes a 1.9 percent increase for federal workers in 2019.

The Senate Appropriations Committee unanimously advanced the Financial Services and General Government Appropriations bill for fiscal 2019, after voting down a Republican amendment that would have stripped the pay raise by a vote of 29-2. On the House side, its appropriations committee has not included any provisions on federal employee pay, effectively allowing the White House pay freeze proposal to stand.

If both chambers approve their versions of the spending package as currently constructed, the pay increase’s fate will be in the hands of a conference committee. But the Trump administration’s proposed $1 billion interagency workforce fund, which officials suggested would jumpstart pay for performance efforts and theoretically help offset the across-the-board pay freeze, was included in neither version of the appropriations bill.

Erich Wagner is a staff correspondent covering pay, benefits and other federal workforce issues. He joined Government Executive in the spring of 2017 after extensive experience writing about state and local issues in Maryland and Virginia, most recently as editor-in-chief of the Alexandria Times. He holds a bachelor's degree in journalism from the University of Maryland.

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