TRICARE extends open season deadline, Army increases time soldiers can spend in service

TRICARE beneficiaries now have until the end of the year to change their health plan.

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TRICARE beneficiaries have a little bit longer to make any changes to their health insurance during the Defense Health Agency’s first open season.

DHA extended its deadline from Dec. 10 to the end of the year.

TRICARE beneficiaries can pick between two plans: TRICARE Prime and Select. They will also be able to change their enrollment type from single to family or vice versa. If beneficiaries do not want to make a change, then their insurance will stay the same.

TRICARE Prime offers a lower cost, but fewer options for providers. TRICARE Select, on the other hand, can be more expensive, but offers more providers and patients do not need referrals.

Previously, “if you wanted to switch between plans, you could do that,” Patrick Grady, chief of the TRICARE health plan told reporters recently. “But then you were locked out for 12 months. You could not go back and forth between plans for obvious reasons. What this open season does now, it syncs us with the way industry has done this.”

The deadline for retirees using TRICARE to sign up for vision and dental insurance has also been extended.

On Jan. 1, 2019, the TRICARE retiree dental and vision programs will move to the Federal Employees Dental and Vision Insurance Program (FEDVIP). Retirees will be able to choose from 10 different dental carriers and four vision carriers.

Laurie Bodenheimer, deputy director of healthcare and insurance for the Office of Personnel Management said Federal Benefit Enrollment call centers have a good idea of the volume of calls to expect.

Federal Benefits Enrollment plans to have a peak of 1,400 customer service representatives in 11 locations across all time zones to help service beneficiaries’ questions.

“They also have a plan B in case that turns out not to be enough because of demand and we will ramp up more representatives as the need arises,” Bodenheimer said. “They are monitoring this very carefully and they’ve got more than one plan … We cannot promise a 30 second wait time. If you wait until the last day, then you wait. Your call will be answered as long as you are in the queue before midnight Eastern time.”

Army raises retention control points

If you love serving in the Army, you may have a chance to serve even longer. The service is increasing the time enlisted soldiers can spend in the Army without being promoted.

The Army hopes the policy decision will keep more soldiers in the Army as it grows to 487,000. The adjustment to the control points will help the Army retain some of its mid-career enlisted soldiers.

  • Current Corporals have a limit of 10 years in the Army without being promoted instead of eight.
  • Sergeants’ control point moved from 14 years to 15 years.
  • Staff Sergeant control points increased from 20 years to 22 years.
  • Sergeant First Class control points went up from 24 years to 26 years.

The Army is hurting for soldiers after it missed its recruiting goal by 6,500 in 2018.

The Navy implemented a less drastic measure to increase its ranks and retain some talent back in August. It started a program that offers high-year tenure waivers to chiefs, senior chiefs and chief petty officers willing to go out to sea. The waivers allow those sailors to serve more than the maximum 24, 26 or 30 years for those respective ranks.

“We need sailors who are personally engaged in the success of our Navy as well as their own personal success,” Vice Adm. Robert Burke, the chief of Naval Personnel Burke stated in a memo. “Similarly, we need leaders who encourage and enable this. This initiative to provide increased opportunity for our senior enlisted leaders to stay in the Navy will help us maintain the leadership experience and technical acumen we need at sea as we grow the force. It also allows our senior enlisted leaders to continue to perform and compete for advancement.”

Tyndall’s recovery

The Air Force resumed taking requests and processing humanitarian changes of station for airmen who were stationed at Tyndall Air Force Base during Hurricane Michael on Thursday.

The service stopped taking requests for a day “to give the commander the time to deliberately consider the personnel requirements for missions that have moved from Tyndall to other bases as a result of the hurricane and ensure there are enough personnel to carry out those missions at those new locations,” said Air Combat Command Spokeswoman Leah Gaston.

Tyndall was rocked by Hurricane Michael in October. The Air Force has been rebuilding since then and airmen and their families stationed at the base were given an opportunity to change assignments after the devastation.

As of Dec. 10, the Air Force completed 437 Exceptional Family Member Program and humanitarian assignment cases. There are still 421 cases pending. The Air Force processed six cases since it lifted its pause on requests.

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