A choice between multiple dental plans is coming for active-duty military dependents, as well as National Guard and reserve members and their families, thanks to extensive "improvements" ordered by Congress in the 2023 defense authorization bill.
The new dental program structure, which is to be in place by Jan. 1, 2026, will give users the option to select from between two to four carriers instead of just one, according to the National Defense Authorization Act. Those carriers must offer at minimum both "standard" and "non-standard" plans.
Standard dental insurance means "coverage of preventive services, basic restorative services, and specialty dental care services at a level that is at least commensurate with the coverage of the same services provided under the premium sharing plans," according to the law. It describes a non-standard plan as a "high option" that provides more or greater coverage than the standard option. The law doesn't define more or greater coverage in any more detail.
Having more carriers and plan types to choose from will theoretically benefit families and reservists compared to a single-carrier, "take it or leave it"-style plan like the current one offered through carrier United Concordia, said Karen Ruedisueli, director of government relations for health affairs at the Military Officers Association of America, or MOAA.
Under today's Tricare Dental Program, users can enroll in coverage that requires monthly premiums. Services received carry out-of-pocket cost-sharing percentages that vary by paygrade and type of dental care.
Families' current cost shares range from 0% of diagnostic and preventive care to 50% of orthodontics. Orthodontic care also carries additional caps and coverage restrictions. Military retirees can access dental coverage through the federal benefits marketplace known as FEDVIP.
But Ruedisueli said MOAA plans to remain watchful that dependents and reservists don't ultimately pay more out of pocket.
The association hopes Congress' changes will amount to an improvement for families, Ruedisueli said, but it's also watching to see whether the implementation of the law turns out well. Advocacy groups such as MOAA should "get a bit of a heads-up to understand where this is headed," she said.
The change has its roots in 2017's transition to United Concordia as carrier, when disruptions to access "caused a lot of frustration."
Even before the changeover to United Concordia, a commission recommended adding another option to Tricare for partial dental care. A final report by the Military Compensation and Retirement Modernization Commission, which was created by Congress in 2013, recommended that a partial care option cover accidental dental injuries and routine preventative and diagnostic services.
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-- Amanda Miller can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.