Senators Collins and Akaka’s Bill Gives Federal Workers Access to Comprehensive Dental and Vision Insurance

WASHINGTON, DC — Senate Governmental Affairs Committee Chairman Susan Collins (R-ME) and Financial Management, the Budget, and International Security Subcommittee Ranking Member Daniel Akaka (D-HI) today introduced bipartisan legislation (S. 2657) to provide federal employees with greater access to comprehensive dental and vision insurance, much like the benefits enjoyed by many private and public sector workers.

The Federal Employee Dental and Vision Benefits Enhancement Act of 2004 would establish a voluntary program under which federal employees and annuitants may purchase dental and vision insurance. Rather than requiring the development of a one-size-fits-all benefit, the legislation grants the Office of Personnel Management (OPM) the authority to select an appropriate combination of nationwide and regional companies and a variety of benefit packages to meet the diverse needs of the federal employee and annuitant population.

“The federal government’s most important asset is its human capital. The opportunity for employees to purchase enhanced dental and vision coverage will help the government with its ongoing efforts to recruit and retain a highly qualified workforce,” said Senator Collins.

“Over the past seven years, federal employee health insurance premiums have increased steadily. The FEHBP, as the world’s largest employer-sponsored group health program, must respond to participants’ interest in better dental and vision benefits. I am pleased to join Senator Collins in sponsoring legislation that will make available a group dental and vision program to the federal family. This is an important first step. Under our bill, the immense buying power of the more than 8.6 million employees, retirees, and dependents will be leveraged to obtain the best possible rates and most comprehensive coverage for those who choose this voluntary supplemental dental and vision benefit package,” said Senator Akaka.

The Senators pointed out that employees of 48 state governments currently have access to voluntary dental benefit plans. Surveys indicate that 95 percent of employers with 500 or more employees provide dental insurance. In addition, the National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research estimates that for every dollar spent on dental disease prevention, $4 is saved in subsequent treatment costs.

“Improved access to dental and vision care is an essential component of any comprehensive health care strategy for federal workers. This legislation will give government workers a choice, a choice they would likely have in similar positions outside of the federal government,” said Senator Collins.

Federal employees currently have access to medical coverage through the Federal Employees Health Benefits Program (FEHBP), but it provides reimbursement for only a small fraction of dental care. Under the Collins-Akaka legislation, medical carriers could continue to offer dental and vision coverage under FEHBP.

The legislation is designed to provide a dental and vision benefit patterned after the Federal Employees Long-Term Care Insurance Program, with the employees who choose to participate paying the premium costs. By leveraging the purchasing power of the federal government, OPM would have the ability to provide access to more affordable dental and vision coverage to employees and retirees than would be available to individuals purchasing this insurance on their own. Federal employees also would have the confidence that OPM has given its seal of approval to the benefit packages provided under the voluntary programs.

In addition, the legislation would require companies to provide coverage in under-served areas; require OPM to ensure that each contract is awarded on the basis of quality and price; and require OPM to provide employees with comprehensive, easy-to-understand information about each of the plans and choices.

OPM also would provide participants access to a process to appeal adverse benefit determinations. Premiums could be made through payroll or annuity deductions, direct payments to the participating companies, or both. The plans would be open to all federal civilian employees and annuitants, regardless of whether they currently participate in the FEHBP.