Tens of thousands of government employees including some firefighters and mail carriers will be able to sign up for the Federal Employees Dental and Vision Insurance Program under a new rule by the Office of Personnel Management that expands eligibility for workers on temporary or seasonal schedules.

FEDVIP is separate from the Federal Employees Health Insurance program and thus subject to different regulations, which had excluded these employees from coverage. A rule that took effect Tuesday would make an estimated 72,000 employees eligible for dental and vision coverage.

“The expansion of coverage also promotes parity with other federal employees in dental and vision access for employees with higher occupational risk, such as wildland firefighters and other emergency responders who may experience harmful impacts of fire and smoke on their vision and health,” the final rule says.

The corollary is this could slightly raise premiums should the program need to cover more costly procedures as a result of bringing in high-risk patients, though OPM said that could be countered by the fact that many of the new enrollees also tend to be younger and thus generally in good health.

At the outset, there may be heavier demand on the program if a large number of previously uninsured employees sign up for coverage all at once. As that levels out, OPM predicts the change would have a net positive effect considering more people would have health insurance and that could reduce the need for sick days among the workforce.

Currently, employees who work at least 130 hours a month and are expected to do so for at least 90 days can enroll in FEHB but not FEDVIP. These employees are considered full-time workers by IRS standards, but may not meet the 33 hour-per-week threshold to be technically considered a full-time government employee, Federal Times previously reported.

Veterans can also enroll in FEDVIP but only once they retire. Current rules say these individuals have 60 days from the date they achieve retired status to enroll, however, OPM recognized that could cause a lapse in coverage.

So, the proposed rule would allow service members to enroll 31 days before they lose dental or vision coverage or an additional 60 days after becoming eligible.

Enrollments for newly eligible individuals will be accepted during a 60-day period after the issuance of the final rule that begins when the employing office notifies employees of their eligibility.

Jessie Bur contributed reporting.

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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