When it comes to federal benefit plans, dental and vision are in a category all their own.

Average health care insurance premiums are skyrocketing. Federal employees and retirees should expect to pay 8.7% more, on average, for health insurance in 2023, the Federal Employees Health Benefits Program said last month.

Yet rates will go up only an average of 0.21% for dental. For vision, rates will decrease by an average of 0.41%.

Part of the reason these rates change independently of standard health insurance offered by the Federal Employee Health Benefits program is because they are, in fact, independent.

Care provided by dentists and optometrists falls under the Federal Employees Dental and Vision Insurance Program. FEDVIP is a standalone voluntary, enrollee-pay-all dental and vision program that offers beneficiaries the option to choose their carrier. In total, FEDVIP provides dental and vision benefits to a total of 7.5 million federal employees, uniformed service members, retirees and family members.

The FEDVIP program shares the same open season dates as the FEHB program, but employees join them separately. The federal government also does not directly contribute to the cost of vision or dental premiums. Beneficiaries pay it all, though with substantial tax savings to employees.

For retirees, it may look like rates increase sharply upon departing from government service, but they don’t.

The frequency of deductions changes from about 25 per year to 12 percent. Federal employees pay their FEDVIP premiums on a bi-weekly or semi-monthly basis. Federal annuitants pay their premiums monthly.

The dental and vision plans use affiliated providers who provide discounts because of the increased business the plans attract. Employees also pay the premiums with pre-tax dollars. Since almost all federal employees face a marginal tax rate close to or above 33 percent, any money an employee spends on dental or vision insurance is not subject to these taxes. Employees get what amounts to about a one-third discount on the premium.

The 2023 plan year also offers some fresh changes, according to OPM’s 2023 benefit highlights:

— Waiting periods for orthodontic services have been removed.

— The overwhelming majority of FEDVIP Carriers provide services targeting pregnant enrollee wellness and education.

— The majority of FEDVIP Carriers provide teledentistry services.

Consistent with years past, dental carriers will provide on-going education on the dangers of opioid abuse, ensure the use of inclusive language in communications and commit to ongoing training of their customer service employees to facilitate the use of member’s preferred name and pronouns.

Twelve dental carriers provide 23 dental plan options available across the program. Seven dental carriers offer fourteen nationwide dental plan options available to all potential enrollees. Five vision carriers provide 10 nationwide vision plan options available to all potential enrollees.

What to know ahead of open enrollment season

Open season for federal employees to re-enroll or change their health insurance for next year starts on Nov. 14 and goes through Dec. 12. With 271 plan options, OPM encourages enrollees to comparison shop.

Federal beneficiaries can find more open season information, including 2023 FEHB health plan comparison tools, on its website around the first week of November.

Last year, the average total premiums for non-Postal employees and annuitants in the FEHB Program increased 2.4 percent, the second lowest increase in more than two decades.

Molly Weisner is a staff reporter for Federal Times where she covers labor, policy and contracting pertaining to the government workforce. She made previous stops at USA Today and McClatchy as a digital producer, and worked at The New York Times as a copy editor. Molly majored in journalism at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

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